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Spring. Winter. Spring. Winter. Seasonal indecision can play havoc on sewers

Looney Tunes Wiki
Recent weather kind of makes you feel this way, too.

With another round of snow in the forecast for what is supposed to be spring, this weather can get to you, right? It isn't just highway crews who have to be prepared for the effects of spring storms.

If you decide to stay home and avoid the mix of rain, snow and ice that appears to be holding off spring, you certainly want the sewer system to work. So does Erie County's Environment and Planning Department.

Although you may worry about power outages that affect your computer or radio, think about the consequences of a storm shutting down the power on a sewage treatment plant: your water may not flow, your toilet may not flush.

Deputy Commissioner Joseph Fiegl says his operations serve nearly a third of Erie County residents and have to plan for these types of problems with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Consider this past weekend:

"Called off the 8-4 shift, it wasn't as bad," Fiegel says, "but in the meantime, although we called off some of those crews, we had some issues with power outages, which we kind of expected anyways and we already had our electronics technicians on call, and so they received a phone call at whatever time it was and they were in addressing, making sure that our generators were operating properly."

Fiegl says the premise is that if a problem can occur, it will.

"Two pumps to provide full capacity, we have three pumps," he says. "The reason is 'cause one of those pumps is going to break down when you need it and, hence, you want to make sure you can be operational. For our pumping stations, obviously we need electricity. If electricity is cut, you want to have a backup generator and we want an automatic transfer switch to be there. So when the power is cut, it's automatically going to turn on and go on to generator power."

In addition to lots of emergency generators -- permanent and portable --and portable pumps, there are worker cell phone trees to prepare for problems when something doesn't work.

"It will happen again, despite your best maintenance practices, someone's going to put something down the sewer that's going to jam up the pump and then you're going to have to address it in the middle of the night," Fiegel says. "So we have our plans in place such we can address that."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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