Baby wipes add to pump failure

By Sandy Myhre

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Baby wipes and nappies being flushed down are a major cause of the sewerage pump failures.
Baby wipes and nappies being flushed down are a major cause of the sewerage pump failures.

Far North District Council has approved an extra $110,000 from capital works to address sewerage pump failures at Ngawha.

The cause has been partly due to nappies, sanitary pads, baby wipes and even clothing being flushed down the toilet.

In 2010 FNDC connected 71 properties at Ngawha to its Kaikohe Wastewater Scheme but now says costs associated with providing sewerage services to these properties have been excessive.

Spokesman Richard Edmondson said the council had spent $70,000 responding to 100 fault callouts and undertaking the necessary repairs at the pumping station.

"An investigation of these faults identified three factors which made the pumps prone to failure," he said.

"They are mounted differently to pumps we use at the other wastewater schemes. Second, we are operating the pumps near their design capacity which reduces the margin for tolerance."

He said the third reason was that households are using their toilets to dispose of items that get jammed in the pump machinery such as nappies, sanitary pads, baby wipes and clothing.

There were 89 blockages in the Far North's sewerage systems in the year to April and it cost, on average, $1000 to remedy these and do follow-up checks. Not all of these blockages were caused by baby wipes, but Mr Edmondson said they had become a feature of many blockages.

The council will gradually replace the top-mounted pumps with what it says are more reliable bottom-mounted pumps but will need to install an intermediate pump station between Ngawha and the rest of the Kaikohe's sewerage network to allow pumps to operate under a "greater range of pressures".

Although FNDC has allocated the funding in the 2016/17 Annual Plan, Mr Edmondson said it was estimated this would save $30,000 a year in operating costs.

And the council plans to launch a publicity campaign called "keep wipes from pipes" to educate householders on the necessity not to use toilets to dispose of cloths that don't biodegrade.

Sewerage systems clogged with baby and facial wipes is not just a local problem. In the UK the sludge masses, congealed lumps of fat caused by these wipes, are called "fatbergs" and in August, 2013, a fatberg the size of a bus was found in drains in London. Closer to home, in February this year, a one-tonne fatberg blew out a pumping station in New South Wales.

- Northern Advocate

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