Signal Mountain residents may have noticed crews from Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority lifting manholes and conducting inspections throughout the town.
The work is part of WWTA's ongoing Sewer System Evaluation Survey in the towns of Signal and Red Bank as well as other parts of the county. It is being funded by a roughly $1.5 million loan received this summer from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a federal/state partnership that finances a wide range of water infrastructure projects.
Since last fall, crews have been using periods of rainy weather to look for cracks and degraded joints in manholes and mainlines within the town. These structural weaknesses, caused by the aging of Signal's roughly 45-year-old sewer system, allow groundwater to leak into the system, causing overflows during storms or periods of heavy rainfall.
WWTA will also start smoke testing during dry spells. This involves dropping smoke-creating devices down those same manholes to find leaks that are causing additional stormwater inflow from sources other than the mainline, like a nearby homeowner's gutters.
Once all the manholes and mainlines have been inspected, the utility will begin rehabilitating the worst of them, said WWTA Executive Director Mark Harrison.
While improving the aging infrastructure is his main goal, Harrison said addressing these leaks could also be another small step toward lifting the moratorium that limits the number of new sewer connections allowed, which was placed on the town in 2007 after environmental regulations were repeatedly violated.
Ending the moratorium would be of particular benefit to residents with failing septic tanks and not enough property to build a new drain field, Harrison added, as it would allow WWTA to consider sewer extension projects to existing homes in underdeveloped portions of the town, like the Shackleford Ridge Road area.
"I want to get rid of overflows and I want to be able to serve more people that, in Signal Mountain's case, have homes that are already built," he said.
In addition to the $1.5 million, Harrison said WWTA will be applying for $6 million to $12 million more in loans over the next several years to address needs throughout the county. Borrowing money to pay for the projects allows the utility to manage its rates, preventing drastic increases, Harrison added.
"We are excited about these funds and will be good stewards to make sure we continue to meet the needs of an ever-changing community," he said.
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