Eric Chavez gets paid to watch television.
And city administrators hope that his TV viewing this month is boring and monotonous.
Chavez, foreman with Ace Pipe Cleaning, Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., is in the midst of using a digital camera system to visually inspect the interior of much of Iola’s aging sewer lines.
He is teaming with coworker Eric Burnett this month for the inspection.
The process is simple, yet impressive.
Burnett guides a 14-jet bottom cleaner — think of a super-sized pressure washer that serves as a water-powered Roto-Rooter — that sprays water to blast away any potential blockages in the sewer line.
A digital camera controlled by Chavez follows closely behind. Bright lights illuminate the interior of the line to give Chavez a closer look at any cracks or failures in the century-old clay lines. The lens can pivot in most any direction to allow crews a closer look at the top, bottom or sides of the lines.
On Thursday, the pair focused much of their efforts on Iola’s 18-inch main along South State Street, the largest sewer line in the city.
Burnett directed the sprayer from his truck near the entrance of Riverside Park; Chavez at the camera from the cramped confines of a van’s back seat.
Video and other information from the camera is recorded onto a computer so it can later be analyzed by engineers, who in turn will determine whether the lines should be refurbished, usually by installing a new line inside the existing one, replaced or left alone altogether.
The crew can inspect about two-thirds of a mile per day. They have about 19 miles of sewer lines to inspect by camera. The other 37 miles of city lines is not in need of this detailed method of inspection at this time, said Judy Brigham, city administrator.
Thursday’s viewing was fairly routine, Chavez said, aside from a brick that had apparently broken loose from a manhole shaft and landed directly on top of the bottom cleaner. The brick was clearly visible on the TV screen.
“I’d seen a lot of things, but never that,” he said.
The South Street line had a number of cracks that eventually will worsen if nothing is done, Chavez said.
“There’s some bad spots in parts, not so bad in others,” he said.
THE CAMERA inspection is the initial phase of Iola’s sewer line rehabilitation project, said Brigham. Engineers will use the video to determine how much of the sewer line must be relined, or in the worst cases, replaced. Brigham hopes the video shows little need for line replacement, which will be decidedly more costly.
Once the camera work is complete — Chavez figures the inspections will last another month or so — Ace crews will turn their focus to manhole rehabilitation. They’ll reline or otherwise repair at least 33 manholes around town.
The city anticipates the entire project will cost about $2.6 million. About $768,000 came in the form of a pair of federal earmarks, grants from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The rest will come from a revolving loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the same fund that helped pay for improvements to Iola’s wastewater lagoons in 2006 and 2007.
The wastewater lagoon improvements were mandated because of more stringent state and federal regulations, Brigham said. “The sewer line is a continuation of that project, in order to meet the tougher standards.”
Loan payments will come from the city’s sewer fund. City commissioners approved higher sewer rates last year to ensure the city had enough money in reserves to make the loan payments.
“We won’t need to do any further rate hikes,” Brigham said.