Part I: Growing Solutions – Clean Solutions for Omaha By Charly Huddleston, P.E.

The Clean Solutions for Omaha program encompasses approximately 43 square miles of Omaha. The specific areas are known as Downtown, Midtown, North Omaha and South Omaha. These areas were developed at a time when combined sewer systems (sanitary and storm water flowing in single pipe systems) were an accepted design.

The specific area of town known as West Omaha is not included in the CSO program because it was developed after the discontinuation of combined sewers, which was replaced by separate sanitary and storm sewers.

Approximately 52 times each year, raw sewage is discharged into the Missouri River and the Papillion Creek watershed from the flows originating in the older combined sewer system areas. The City of Omaha is not alone. There are about 772 other communities in the United States facing this same challenge.

The Federal Government passed the Combined Sewer Control Overflow policy in 1994. In 2005, the City of Omaha received notification that compliance was required. Four years later, the City, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed on an approved long-term control plan (LTCP) to reduce discharges to four times per year. Completion of the LTCP is scheduled for 2024.

Step 1 Soil - Field Investigation Phase
Soil is essential to the growth cycle of plants and field investigations are essential to the development of acceptable clean solutions. The field investigation phase is comprised of:
1. Office research
2. Field work
3. Stakeholder involvement

Office Research
Office research is an important task that provides the basis upon which to build and better understand the existing conditions in the field. Before field work begins, our team researches and reviews as-built plans; historical design standards, complaints, hydrology and hydraulic studies; as well as public utility and flow meter records, etc.

Office research can uncover interesting history, such as evidence that some combined sewers were originally built using FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) “New Deal” funds following the Great Depression in the early 1930s.

Field work
Field work is important and includes TV inspection of existing pipes, manholes and inlets, visual observation of high-water marks and collection of other important private property information. Inspection of pipes, manholes and inlets are completed in compliance with the National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO) as modified by the City for its CSO program. Utilizing a uniform nationally accepted standard ensures compliance across the program.

The following photo was taken in midtown Omaha and is an excellent example of why private property inspections are important. This residential downspout is connected to a private sanitary sewer service. It is not easily discovered without entering the property and investigating. In some neighborhoods, this practice is a significant problem.

Stakeholder involvement
Stakeholder involvement is an important element of field investigations. There are many ways to involve stakeholders, such as issuing informative door hangers, posting project descriptions on the city CSO website, mailing stakeholders letters and holding informal public meetings. Because the CSO program encompasses a wide variety of economic, ethnic, educational, religious and cultural backgrounds, we prepare a unique approach to each of our specific projects.

The following photo was taken in North Omaha. It shows one of our crews performing a manhole condition inspection. Our crew members not only have good technical skills. They have good people skills, too. That is because they interact with stakeholders on a day-to-day basis.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will discuss the importance of water in growing clean solutions.