Buried underneath every home and building lining the streets of Kansas City are nearly 318 square miles of pipes, hidden from view but serving an important purpose: protecting public health and our environment. Some of these pipes are 50, 100, even 150 years old — and still in use today.
Kansas City’s sanitary sewer system consists of separate and combined sewer systems. In the separate sewer system, stormwater and wastewater are collected in two different pipes, where wastewater is routed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment, and stormwater flows directly to nearby rivers and streams without treatment. In the combined sewer system, stormwater and wastewater are collected in the same pipe, and routed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment.
When it rains, our vast and aging sewer system can quickly reach capacity and even overflow, discharging a mix of wastewater and stormwater directly into our streams and rivers. The Smart Sewer program is KC Water’s plan to reduce combined sewer overflows by 88% and eliminate overflows in the separate sewer system.
In 2010, Kansas City entered into a Consent Decree with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that improvements are made to our sewer system to reduce the frequency and volume of sewer overflows into local waterways as well as the potential for basement backups. This work also meets the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
In 1860, Kansas City built the Main Street Public Sewer out of wood and brick. By 1885, the sewer system was expanded and extended to the Missouri River, but the sewage wasn’t treated; it was simply diverted downhill and dumped directly into the river. In 1895, engineering firms began to build more modern collection systems using clay pipes located below street level. These were properly vented (no more foul smells!), and diverted sewage and stormwater away from town. At the same time, water treatment systems began to emerge that used lime softening and chlorination.
Clay pipe remained the material of choice until the 1980s, and is still in use today throughout much of Kansas City’s sewer system. What’s wrong with clay? Because it is naturally porous, clay pipes over time will crack, clog with roots, and even collapse. Pipes that aren’t working properly cause a host of problems that affect public health and our environment.
Kansas City’s sewer system is in need of repair, but there’s more to it than just replacing the old pipes in your neighborhood. See Our Smart Solutions to find out how we’re addressing the problem and modernizing our system.
When you flush, you expect it to go away. You also expect your basement to be free of sewage backup when it rains — and for stormwater to be filtered and cleaned before it returns to our streams and rivers. KC Water’s Smart Sewer program is a 25-year, $4.5 billion plan to address the system-wide challenge facing our sewer system in a way that protects our community and restores this vital piece of our City’s infrastructure.
The Smart Sewer program uses innovations in data, approaches, technologies, and materials to ensure the improvements and investments we make today will last for generations to come. In short, we work smarter to minimize cost and maximize the benefits to Kansas City. Here’s how:
Repair where we can, replace where we must, build new only when necessary. The Smart Sewer program puts the priority on fixing the system we have, and only replacing the parts of the system that are beyond repair — we rebuild infrastructure only when it is a “must.” This is the smartest investment for our customers.
Use innovation at every turn. The materials used to repair our sewer system include cured-in-place pipe and other pipe lining techniques designed to last up to 80 years. New methods to lay pipe such as trenchless technologies, like pipe bursting and lining, are less disruptive to customers, safer for workers, quicker to complete, and more reliable over time.
Let real-time data and sensors pinpoint what needs to be done. From needed repairs to making informed decisions about how, when and where the water flows on any given day, advanced equipment is in use in the entire sewer system, including gates (how used, what does it do), manhole covers (how/what), anything else?
Use green infrastructure when possible. Green infrastructure helps manage stormwater the way nature intended by capturing and utilizing rainwater where it falls. It is a long-term solution that looks beautiful above ground and works wonders below, decreasing the amount of water getting into our pipes, and reducing flooding, pollution, and trash in our streams, rivers, and lakes.
Use technology to make work efficient and safe. Today, closed-circuit TV is used to inspect pipes for damage, guide the cleaning of pipes to improve flow, and to inspect the entire system. It allows experts to review the health of the system and plan repairs more quickly and safely than visual inspections.