Templeton homes may be smoky during tests of sewer system

Don't panic if the nontoxic smoke enters your home, officials say; just call the Templeton Community Services District

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comOctober 9, 2012 

Templeton residents may see white smoke billowing out of their sinks and bathtubs and wafting around town in the next few weeks while the Community Services District looks for breaks in its sewer system.

The testing is slated to occur in stages spanning from west to east beginning Wednesday through the first two weeks of November, Utilities Supervisor Jay Short said.

The purpose of using smoke — which Short said is nontoxic and specifically made for this kind of testing — is to reveal weak points where rain and surface water can enter the sewer system.

The district has been noticing extra water in its system, increasing the overall volume of the community’s sewage and making it more expensive to treat, Short said. Figures on how much volume has increased and the associated costs were not immediately available.

The majority of residents will likely not see the smoke in their homes or businesses, Short said, unless segments of their plumbing or venting systems are already damaged.

The appearance of smoke inside is an indication that gases — such as methane — and odors from the sewer could also get in at some point, according to the district.

Short said his main concern is that he doesn’t want people to be frightened if they see the smoke inside their homes.

“It should not enter (your) house, period,” he said. “The smoke is not going to hurt you. But if some reason it comes into the house, we don’t want you panicking.”

The smoke will come out of rooftop vents on homes and businesses, which is normal and means the sewer system connection to homes is working properly.

If people do see smoke inside, they should call the district office so the public works department can inspect the breaking point. Breaks in a home or business could mean a home’s sewer pipes, plugs, traps or drains are inadequate, defective or improperly installed.

Residents are also encouraged to add water to floor drains or spare bathrooms that aren’t regularly used since protections in those pipes — often called p-traps — can dry out and cause smoke to enter.

Each neighborhood would take up to 20 minutes to test. The testing crew will be walking each area looking for any smoke coming out of the streets or from lawns, which will indicate the breaks.

The smoke reportedly doesn’t stain and has no effect on plant or animal life. It will however, have “a distinctive, but not unpleasant, odor” that will last “only a few minutes, where there is adequate ventilation,” according to a news release from the district.

Short said he hasn’t smelled this type of smoke before so he couldn’t describe what the odor was like.

For elderly residents, people with pets or other conditions where the presence of smoke could cause concern, Short said special scheduling is available so folks can make arrangements such as putting animals outside.

Smoke testing has been around for decades, Short said, and it isn’t uncommon.

The last smoke testing in Templeton occurred in 1998 when the district had the same problem of increased water volume, and patching the points where smoke escaped helped fix those leaks.

In 1998, the district used smoke bombs that they dropped into manholes in district streets. This time, they will be using drops of the smoke solution and a blower machine over the manholes to float the smoke through.

Who to call

For questions about the smoke testing, scheduling concerns or to report seeing smoke inside a home or business, call the Templeton Community Services District at 434-4900.

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