If you see white smoke rising from drains or buildings next week, don't be alarmed. It's likely to be part of a series of tests the City of Columbia Sewer Utility is conducting to identify areas where stormwater is getting into the sanitary sewers.
The city has contracted Kansas City-based TREKK Design Group for the tests, which will begin on Monday. The testing will begin near Douglass Park, in an area west of Orr Street and east of McBaine Avenue. Work will move south through downtown and MU's campus, and it will end just south of East Stadium Boulevard and Hospital Drive. The work hours will take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., during which there may be lane closures.
The tests will take place next week during MU's spring break to take advantage of decreased traffic downtown and on campus, but may take longer depending on weather, said Jeff Kaestner, a project manager at TREKK Design. Residents in the work zones will be notified via door hangers.
When rainwater enters the sanitary sewers, it is carried along to a treatment plant where it undergoes the same process as sewage, ultimately costing the city more money, Kaestner said. This flooding can also cause backups in basements of nearby homes.
"We're using a lawnmower-like engine with a fan on it that sits on top of a manhole to essentially pressurize the sewer with smoke," Kaestner said. "If there's an area drain in a parking lot connected to a sewer, smoke will come out of the drain and we can identify that as a source where rainwater enters the sewer. It is the most accurate way to identify those sources of rainwater."
The smoke that will be used is non-toxic, odorless and harmless to pets, according to a news release.