Problems Below: Different Issues That Affect NYC Sewers

September 20, 2022

New York City is full of intrigue and mystery. The sheer size of all five boroughs makes it impossible to ever see every hidden secret. This is especially true when you consider the amount of infrastructure beneath our feet. There are over 500 miles of underground subway tracks, over 100 miles of Con Edison steam delivery systems, countless underwater access tunnels, and over 6,600 miles of sewage components!

With all of these structures existing right below our feet, there must be various problems present. Let’s explore the different issues that negatively affect NYC sewers and how you can help make this city a safer and more efficient place.

The Emergence of Fatbergs in NYC

There’s a very good chance that you are aware of the fatberg epidemic impacting New York City and cities around the world. Terrifying videos of these seemingly alive masses of trash and slime regularly grace the front page of local newspapers, leading some to believe the sewers beneath our feet are infested with monsters. Although fatbergs are not sewer-dwelling beasts, they might be just as dangerous.

A fatberg is basically like a clog that’s comprised of various non-biodegradable items, oils, and fats. These masses form due to improper disposal practices – pouring cooking oil and/or food scraps down the drain, flushing diapers or other hygiene products down the toilet, etc. This waste combines with the waste from other homes and buildings. It absorbs chemicals like calcium. Eventually, the fat and oil break down into acids and bind with the calcium. The final result is a soapy compound that floats around the sewer. When water levels rise, this soapy material clings to the walls of the sewer system and becomes waxy

Now, in a smaller town with a less-used sewer system, fatbergs are relatively manageable. However, it’s a different story in NYC. With over 8 million people and over 3 million households throughout all five boroughs, New York City fatbergs quickly spiral out of control. These clogs can get to unimaginable sizes, with some reaching over two hundred feet in length! But the size of these clogs isn’t the issue – rather, the frequency and the number of “mini-fatbergs” throughout the city’s sewer system is what really causes concerns for government officials and residents alike. Recently, around 90 percent of all sewer back-ups in NYC were due to fatbergs, leading experts to assume that there are over 2,000 fatbergs in the sewer across the entire city.

Removing fatbergs is quite the undertaking. These masses of grease and waste demand specific removal processes to ensure accurate results, including vacuum trucks, water jets, a team of scrapers, and the construction of a bypass line. On average, fatberg removal projects cost New York City $3.6 million annually. However, some fatbergs are more costly than others. One single, 100-foot-long fatberg in Detroit cost the city $100,000 just to clean. And all of these costs don’t include money spent or lost in the event of backflow issues with the NYC sewer system.

Seeing as cleaning isn’t the most prudent method for handling the fatberg epidemic, what can we, as New Yorkers, do to ensure blob monsters don’t overrun our sewers? The DEP has a relatively simple set of rules known as the four P’s. Basically, you should only ever flush the following materials down your toilet: poop, pee, puke, and paper. Additionally, never dispose of cooking oil, food scrapes, and hygienic wipes/products down your drains and/or toilet. Recycling some of these items also helps slow down fatberg growth. By being more aware of the dangers of fatbergs and the proper steps for mitigating the issues, our city can maintain one of the most impressive and functional sewer systems in the world.

Water Main Issues

It might shock you to learn that fatbergs cost the city nearly $3.5 million each year in removal costs. However, the cost of repairing and maintaining water mains throughout all five boroughs is astronomically higher – over $400 million, to be more specific! In fact, there are approximately 1.2 water main breaks every day in NYC.

There are many reasons why the nearly 6,000 miles of water mains underneath the city repeatedly rupture, malfunction, or leak. For one, many of these structures are 60 years old or more. The entire sewage system is relatively outdated. Unfortunately, the complexity of this sewage system makes replacing older components so difficult, leading to the second reason for repeated water main issues – it’s so expensive!

Environmental factors such as severe weather and storms are also hazardous to this aging sewer system. The last few major tropical storms and subsequent floods have caused ground shifting. These changes in the ground can move water mains, add extra stress/pressure both inside and outside the parts, and lead to more frequent water main problems. Rising sea levels are also taking their toll on our sewers.

Water main ruptures are viral occurrences at this point, with videos of overflowing subway stations regularly trending on social media. These types of malfunctions cause massive economic hardships for millions of individuals, businesses, and the city itself.

NYC Staple: Rats

This wouldn’t be a proper New York City-related blog without mentioning our least favorite, most populous pests! Rats are, quite obviously, a problem in the big apple. They spread disease, cause structural damage to homes and buildings, and, for many, their presence alone is enough to stoke fear and panic. While there are millions of rats spread throughout all five boroughs, there aren’t as many in the sewer as you might think.

In fact, most rats leave the sewers in search of mates, shelter, food, and water. Unfortunately, rats use our sewer system to access different areas of the city. This labyrinth of pipes sometimes leads rats from the sewers into our homes, often in our basements, but sometimes through our toilets! There isn’t much we can do about the growing population of rats in our sewer systems, so it’s best to keep your home clean and protected from unwanted pests at all times.

New York City is the most magical city in the world, but there are plenty of problems below that we must be aware of and actively try to prevent from worsening. These different issues that affect NYC sewers can quickly impact your own life and property. If you find yourself dealing with sewage problems and require expert water main leak repair services, please get in touch with our friendly team at Harris Main and Water today!

Problems Below: Different Issues That Affect NYC Sewers

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