HENRY COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) -- While people have been staying home more under COVID-19 restrictions, the Henry County Water Authority has experienced an increase in sewage clogs and debris.

Officials say people are flushing items that should not be flushed, like disinfecting wipes, rags, and paper towels. And they say with more people cooking at home, more cooking oil and grease is getting poured down drains. As a result, the utility is dealing with additional strain on its assets which is causing damage to its equipment and infrastructure and increasing maintenance and costs. This is in addition to the Authority’s continual maintenance efforts to address line clogs, sewer spills, and overflows, which officials say will get even worse, if this trend continues.

“We’ve noticed an uptick in grease buildup in the lines and rags causing blockages in the lines,” said Tara Brown, Henry County’s Sewer Maintenance Manager. “You flush it and you just assume that it goes away but if earlier that day you had dumped grease down the drain and it started to clog up those pipes… then, when you flush those rags, it’s just going to build up. What you usually have is a 4 inch diameter pipe coming out of your house, it doesn’t take much to clog that up and so you would be calling a plumber to come out and clear that blockage for you.”

If the blockage pushes further down the line, it becomes the County’s responsibility. They have to clear the blockage before it gets to their pump stations, which pump waste water to the treatment facilities. Lately, workers have been doing preventative maintenance on the pumps, which frequently get covered with debris. Tony Carnell, Deputy Manager for Henry County Water Authority invited CBS46 to a waste water lift station in McDonough to show how much gunk is being drudged up.

“We have 3 pumps here, there’s 2 that work on a regular basis and 1 backup,” he said. “This here lift station is capable of treating 2 million gallons of waste water, of waste, and basically when a pump goes down, our guys get an alert and they have to come out here sometimes on weekends, Sunday morning or during the day when they have to troubleshoot and figure out what the problems are.” He said repairs can cost thousands of dollars, but if a pump needs to be replaced, it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We’ve got over 450 miles of sewer line across the county, that stretches from here to New Orleans, that’s the sewer pipe that we’re charged with maintaining,” said Brown. And if too much strain is put on the system, you run the risk of sewage spills and environmental hazards.

Officials warn that homeowners could begin seeing an increase in sewer backups at their residences as well.

“For those of you that aren’t on a public sewer system, and you might have a septic tank in your backyard, you’re essentially filling up your septic tank which is going to be even costlier than

calling out a plumber to clear a blockage, to have your septic tank pumped, so that’s a problem. We want our homeowners to know what you could be facing,” said Brown.

To maintain the integrity of residential plumbing and septic tanks, as well as the Henry County Water Authority sewer system, officials are pleading with residents to refrain from flushing any type of wet wipe or rag down the toilet, even those that are marked as “flushable.”

Instead of flushing wet wipes, residents are asked to throw them in the trash after use. They say an effective slogan to consider: “the toilet is not a trash can!”

And then urge residents not to dispose of cooking oils or grease down the drain, which can cause build-up along the sides of the pipes.

“We really try to get infront of it and educate the public when we get the opportunity. Because if you know…you’re more aware, and more likely not to do it,” said Brown.

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