Nov 20 2017Share

Holiday Message: Take It Easy On Your Plumbing And Your City’s Infrastructure

By Warren Tenney

Many of us will be cooking more and hosting more company than usual as the holiday season begins this week. The holidays are fun, fattening, exhausting and hard on your plumbing. It’s not unusual to be forced to snake out a drain or call the plumber while hosting company. The holidays also are hard on your city’s water infrastructure. 

Wastewater includes anything rinsed down your kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers and tubs, flushed down your toilets and drained from your dishwasher and clothes washer. Your city’s wastewater collection system uses mostly gravity to quickly collect and carry wastewater away from your neighborhood and to the wastewater treatment plant. When wastewater hits a hill and gravity no longer works, the collection system uses a pump to lift the wastewater over the rise and send it flowing again – by gravity – to the treatment plant. It’s at these lift stations where tonnage of non-biodegradable items flushed and sent down drains can clog the pumps and create a back up. If the mess gets though to a treatment plant, the clots can get trapped in the plant’s equipment and burn out motors and plug industrial screens. Public workers must then re-route or temporarily stop the flow while they clean up and repair the damage.

Here are a few ways to keep your plumbing working throughout the holidays and save your city time and money.

Kitchen Grease: The kitchen will be busy during the holidays. There will be big breakfasts and roasts, cookies and tamales by the dozens. What should you do with a pan full of bacon grease or lard or butter or roast drippings? Don’t wash it down the drain with hot water or put it into the garbage disposal. The grease will eventually harden, adhere to plumbing and sewer lines and create a clog that could cause a sewage line to back up at your home. Sewage with a lot of grease mixed into it is difficult to clean at a wastewater treatment plant. Pour cooled grease, cooking oils, butter and meat drippings into an empty container, such as a milk carton, and use a paper towel to clean the remainder of the grease from the pan. Then throw the carton and the paper towel into the trash. 

Diapers and Baby Wipes: If you are hosting young families, it’s best to be prepared for dirty diapers and baby wipes. Without a designated container, some hurried parents simply flush infant diapers - and paticularly baby wipes - down the nearest toilet. While wipes often claim to be disposable, they are not biodegradable. If wipes make it through your plumbing, they collect inside your city’s wastewater system. Diapers and wipes are built to collect liquid, so they swell as they move along a collection system. (While we’re talking about babies, it may be the best place to warn readers not to flush condoms or other rubber or plastic items and to please stop your kids from flushing tiny plastic toys they like to watch swirl.)

Facial Wipes and Cotton Balls: Parties and guests call for full makeup and nails, often done while the kids are fighting for the bathroom. Make sure you keep your trash cans empty and ready to handle the extra facial wipes, cotton balls, cotton swabs, paper towels and tissues. A reminder not to flush these items down the toilet may help.  

Cat Litter: It may be hard for some cat owners to believe, but there are people who routinely flush the contents of their litter boxes. Litter is made to absorb liquid and becomes a gummy mess inside your plumbing and your city’s collection system.

City employees clean miles of collection-pipes every day with jet hoses and industrial vacuum trucks to ensure wastewater has a clear path to the treatment plant. For example, it takes the City of Peoria about five years to make an entire cleaning circuit of its 700 miles of sewage lines. Despite this continual effort, flushing the wrong items can cause a blockage that can lead to a sewage overflow through manholes and onto the streets. Alert your city if you see someone illegally dumping in a manhole. The holidays are no time for a sewage backup in your neighborhood – or your home.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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