ST. GEORGE — When it comes to paper towels, napkins, tissues and so-called “flushable wipes” that aren’t so flushable, whether you are on a city system or septic system, various municipalities and professionals in Southern Utah are asking residents to pay special attention to what’s going down the whirling waters of the toilet bowl.
Officials are reminding people to reserve their flushes for toilet paper and natural waste only, because anything else has the potential to clog and back up the system.
“We have seen an increase in things being flushed down the toilet with the last two to three weeks,” said Scott Taylor, water services director for the city of St. George.
With toilet paper being virtually nonexistent on grocery store shelves – as well as a run on disinfectant wipes – due to panic-buying triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, both county and municipal water officials have begun to see an increase in the use of disposable wipes and other materials that doesn’t dissolve while traveling through sewer pipe.
“Flushable wipes, they’re a misnomer,” Taylor said. “It’s always a good idea not to flush anything down the toilet that’s not going to dissolve. You always run the risk of backup if you flush something down that doesn’t belong.”
Both Taylor and Mike Shaw, Washington City’s public works director, said part of the threats the nondissolving wipes and similar items pose is clogging up lift stations. These stations are used in areas where the typography of the land requires waste water to be “lifted” in the next segment of the sewer line.
Part of a letter posted on the Cedar City government website earlier this month regarding the matter goes into further detail:
Unlike toilet paper, personal and disinfectant wipes are designed with a cloth-like material that does not allow for standard break-down in Sewer Systems. Due to this, these types of wipes can accumulate within the Sewer System and cause problems.
The increasingly popular application of low-flow toilets, showerheads, and fixtures may reduce excessive water usage yet, when personal and disinfectant wipes are used in conjunction with low-flow fixtures/appliances it can cause a diminished wastewater-flow. This diminished wastewater flow can allow wipes and similar products to dry up, clump together and become hard like a rock. If this occurs, it can inevitably cause serious obstructions in your sewer lateral and potentially cause a Sanitary Sewer Overflow. Upon traveling further down-stream, these wipes can also cause problems not limited to; blocking other sewer lines, clogging City mechanical Sewer Lift Stations and cause interference of Cedar City treatment facility systems/equipment.
While there haven’t been any major clogging issues in St. George or Washington City, Taylor and Shaw said city staff are closely watching the system for any potential signs of disruption.
“It’s definitely a concern for us,” Shaw said.
St. George has an “aggressive maintenance program” that should help keep any problems from getting too extreme, Taylor said. He also noted the city’s waste water treatment plant has a good screening system at the front of it that should catch any undesirable debris from passing through.
Still, he said, spots in the sewer line where water pressure isn’t the best can start to act like water traps and get clogged up as the wipes get stuck and begin to catch other material trying the pass through.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District is also keeping on eye on the issue where its own systems are concerned, Zachary Renstrom, the water district’s general manager, previously told St. George News.
Sonrisa Adams of Putnam Plumbing said the wipes can be trouble for septic tanks and residential lines that have roots growing through them, which provides another point the wipes can get caught on.
In some cases, like older homes with old sewer pipes, clogs could cause parts of the sewer system to be replaced, which can run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars depending on the severity, Adams said.
“It’s just bad news,” she said.
As a post on the city of St. George Facebook page noted earlier this week that the only things that should be going down the toilet are the three P’s: “pee, poop and toilet paper.”
“No wipes. Especially no wipes,” the post states.
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