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Boston's Water Source Cleans Up Nicely!

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday that the Charles River, the source of Boston’s municipal water, is the cleanest the river has been since the agency started performing regular water quality tests in 1995. That’s good news for Boston residents, and the announcement comes during World Water Week.

The testing measures the percentage of time during a year that the water is deemed to be safe for swimming and boating. In 2013, the last year for which complete sample data is available, the Charles River was given an A-. Previously, the river’s best grade was a B+. According to the 2013 samples, the river was found to be safe for recreational boating 96% of the time, and recreational swimming 70% of the time. Comparatively, the first water samples, taken in 1995, showed that the river was safe for boating only 39% of the time, and safe for swimming just 19% of the time.

According to the EPA, most of the contaminants that enter the river today come from improperly connected sewer drains. Previously, industrial pollutants had been the largest source of drinking water contamination. In the early 1970’s, the EPA began to regulate industrial waste disposal, and prohibited it from being discharged into rivers and streams.

Additionally, there has been a local push to eliminate improper sewer connections that dump untreated waste directly into the river. In 2013 alone, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission prevented nearly 3 million gallons of raw sewage from entering its storm water management system by eliminating illegal sewer hookups throughout the area.

Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association cautions that the high grades don’t mean that the river is in the clear. He emphasizes that the river is still vulnerable to other conditions, like toxic algal blooms, polluted storm water runoff, and the impacts of climate change. In August, the City of Toledo, OH had to shut down its municipal water system for two days to prevent toxic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) from entering the city’s water supply. Ohio’s fourth-largest city also supplies water to surrounding communities in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

Depending upon the strain, blue-green algae can produce neurotoxins, and cause liver and endocrine system damage. Some blue-green algae by-products can be toxic on contact, resist traditional water purification techniques, and release higher concentrations of toxins when boiled. Exposure to high concentrations of some blue-green algae toxins has been implicated in the neurological disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Preventing uncontrolled sewage discharges into the river is key to controlling both E. coli levels in the river and preventing the conditions that can cause a blue-green algae bloom. Blue-green algae feeds on fertilizers and waste products in the water, so minimizing their presence is important. Several local communities are currently offering a sewer discharge “amnesty” program to encourage residents with illegal sewer-to-storm drain connections to correct those.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We can diagnose and correct your sewer connection issues, and help you determine whether your community has a storm drain amnesty program to reduce the cost of correcting your storm and/or sewage drains.

Please give us a call at (617) 288-2911 anytime for a consultation or an appointment.

Video Sewer Line Inspections Can Reveal Trouble!

Few things strike fear in the hearts of homeowners faster than a problem with a home’s main drain. Boston sewer repairs can sneak up on a homeowner and wreak absolute havoc! Keeping your home’s sewer line clear is the best way to ensure that you don’t come home one evening to “Sewer Surprise!”

Your home’s sewer connection consists of some relatively large diameter pipe, most often made of clay, iron or plastic. Clay is commonly found in older homes, while plastic is used in newer construction and in replacement work.

Some homes built between 1945 and 1972 may have a sewer connection made of bituminous fiber, which is wood fiber and pitch that has been impregnated with asphalt. This product, called Orangeburg pipe, is no longer used in construction and is unsuitable for sanitary sewer connections. Orangeburg has a life expectancy of between 30-50 years, and deteriorates rapidly once material failure begins to occur.

Diagnosing a sewer line failure can be tricky without conducting a video inspection. The alternative to a video inspection is often excavation, so video examination is both cost-effective and highly accurate.

During a video inspection of a home’s sewer line, a special camera is introduced into the pipe. The camera shows the inside of the pipe and can detect cracks, joints and separations, tree root intrusions, partial or complete pipe collapses and defects in the sewer line that can cause debris to accumulate and restrict the flow of water to the city sewer line. Camera equipment traces exactly where breaks and defects have occurred, so the technology can precisely locate where excavation and repair work are needed. Further, most video camera inspection units have a locating beacon that helps an operator working outdoors to find the exact position of the camera while it is in the pipe.

Video inspection of a home’s sewer line can also be valuable for potential homeowners who are looking for a new home. By conducting a video inspection of a prospective purchase, would-be buyers can avoid any unpleasant surprises that might otherwise require thousands of dollars to repair. Alternately, the video inspection can provide a basis for negotiating a more favorable purchase price for a property.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers video inspection of sewer lines to determine the condition of the line and to detect faults, breaks and obstructions, as well as their locations. This kind of inspection can provide exceptional value to current homeowners, as well as prospective homeowners who are considering putting in an offer on a new home or investment property. Please give us a call at (617) 288-2911 to set up an appointment for this service.

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Dry Wells Can Help Flooding in Boston

Boston has been urbanized for a very long time, and along with urbanization comes a growing problem: storm water flooding. In Boston, the Back Bay area was also filled in for development in the late 1800’s. More than 100 years later, the shrinking water table in Boston has created some issues with the stability of the fill and the buildings that rest on top of that.

On natural land, rainwater is reabsorbed into the ground where it is filtered through the soil and eventually returned to the underground water reservoirs. In the city, buildings and driveways, roads and other structures cover much of the surface and interrupt the natural recharging process that would otherwise keep the water table at a relatively constant height.

To accommodate the loss of natural land, cities like Boston have extensive storm sewer systems that aggregate storm run-off and discharge it back to rivers, lakes and reservoirs. While it’s good to get water off the streets, storm drains don’t provide an ideal solution. By redirecting water to lakes and rivers, the water levels in rivers and lakes tend to rise, sometimes beyond what the waterway would normally hold. At the same time, storm sewers reduce the water table in urbanized areas.

Reduction of the local water table has been particularly bad for areas like the Back Bay, which was constructed on landfill. Untreated wood pilings that support buildings in this area and were supposed to be submerged under water are now exposed because the water table has fallen. This exposure has made the pilings more susceptible to decay and has compromised the stability of these buildings.

Each permanent structure in the city reduces the amount of land that is available to reabsorb rainwater, and places additional strain on the remaining natural land. Municipalities and homeowners alike are now looking for ways to recharge the local water table by returning storm water runoff to the ground in highly urbanized areas.

One way to accomplish this is through the use of a dry well. Dry wells have been used in Boston for a long time to help reduce storm water flooding. A dry well is a special structure that is designed to collect run-off and return it to the ground, primarily through infiltration.

A dry well consists of a pit that is filled with gravel or other coarse material. Runoff from building roofs is directed into the dry well where the water is returned to the surrounding soil through perforated pipes. Dry wells are designed to distribute any overflow that might occur following a significant storm or melt. Dry wells can be custom-engineered on site or can be made from pre-fabricated components that can safely discharge 25 gallons or more of water at one time.

A dry well must be constructed deep enough to avoid freezing in the winter, but not so deep that it sits below the local water table and ends up acting as a groundwater reservoir instead. Dry wells are constructed completely underground so they do not significantly alter the visible landscape of a property. Properly maintained dry wells can last between 30 and 100 years!

The location and construction of dry wells is exceptionally important because an improperly constructed dry well can cause damage to foundations or flooding in areas adjacent to the dry well. Certain areas are not good for dry well construction, including land where clay and other non-porous soils are prevalent.

If you would like more information about installing a dry well for your home, or you have a dry well that is in need of maintenance or rebuilding, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 to schedule a consultation.

In the right circumstances, dry wells in Boston can make a significant difference in the long-term health, well-being and value of your home. They can also help preserve the local water table and provide an ideal solution for controlling rainwater runoff.