Manhole sensors in boro to detect sewer blockage

Manhole covers equipped with sensors that detect sewer blockages are being installed in several Queens neighborhoods as part of a city Department of Environmental Protection pilot program.
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The city Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday it is installing manhole covers equipped with sensors in several Queens neighborhoods that will monitor flow levels in sewer pipes and alert the agency before a potentially problematic backup occurs.

“Maintaining our 7,400 miles of sewer lines requires the smart allocation of resources and this monitoring technology will alert us to the areas that are most in need of attention,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland in a statement.

The pilot program, being launched with 11 installations in Queens, five in Brooklyn and five in Staten Island, will enable the DEP to better identify portions of the sewer system that need maintenance and repair, according to the department.

“Preventative maintenance on sewer lines can enhance system capacity and improve the flow of wastewater, helping to prevent the system from being overwhelmed during heavy rain,” said a DEP press release announcing the program.

A DEP official said when the sewer system is blocked, discharge wastewater can potentially flow into the streets and into residences, although how often and why the system gets blocked depend on the neighborhood. The official said a common cause of blockages is cooking grease getting poured down the drain and/or directly into a sewer grate.

The official said the manhole locations in Queens, which include Flushing, Jamaica, St. Albans and the Rockaways, were chosen after the DEP looked at its history of complaints in order to identify potential problem areas.

The sensors are installed on the underside of the manhole covers and send alerts to DEP borough command centers when elevated flow levels are detected. Crews are then dispatched to inspect the sewer pipe and perform any necessary maintenance on the system.

The DEP said the pilot program incorporates Geographic Information System technology as part of the department’s wider effort to use its GIS tool in aiding sewer maintenance and repair. The DEP built the GIS tool in 2002, and it contains digital, searchable maps of the city’s sewer lines, manholes and other infrastructure, according to the department.

The new monitoring technology installed on the manhole covers was funded through a $300,000 capital investment to optimize the city’s sewers, and the DEP said it plans to expand the pilot program by spring 2013 with an additional 20 installations.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 5:27 pm, September 26, 2012
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