The Swarm

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March 28, 2012
Sacramento hopes 'smart' manhole covers stop overflows
Sacramento's Utilities Department now has the go-ahead from the City Council for three years of double-digit rate hikes to finance more than $260 million in water and sewer repairs.

It also is seeking far less expensive ways to avoid costly and messy sewage overflows.

One approach is to test "smart" manhole covers on the city's antiquated system of sewage pipes. In big storms, the deluge can flood streets and basements with a disgusting and toxic brew.

Sensors on the underside of the manhole covers measure water levels. If there's a dangerous spike, a supervisor will be alerted and a repair crew can be sent out.

The city just bought 10 of them, for a relatively cheap $4,500 a piece. It plans to install them at 10 "hot spots" that have a history of overflows.

Here's the list:

68th Avenue and 21st Street
River Park (exact location to be determined)
Rio Linda and Acacia Avenue
John Still Drive and 24th Street 
South Land Park Drive and Ridgeway Drive
Detroit Boulevard
Strawberry Manor (exact location to be determined)
Old Sacramento (exact location TBD)
Greenhaven Drive near Florin Road
Hollywood Park (exact location TBD)

If they work, the city has plans to put in 10 more a year for the next five years.

Other cities are also testing the manhole cover sensors, according to an article on Atlantic Cities, the magazine's website on municipal issues. Municipalities are hoping that this will be a cheaper way to comply with federal clean water rules to prevent overflows.

Many of these cities -- mostly in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest -- have combined sewage systems like the network that covers downtown Sacramento and some older neighborhoods where pipes collect both sewage and stormwater.
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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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