Show Attendees “Pumped” about Sewer Cleaning Market

I’ve been attending water industry conferences for the past 12+ years and have always enjoyed interacting with people in the industry...

by James Laughlin

I’ve been attending water industry conferences for the past 12+ years and have always enjoyed interacting with people in the industry and learning about new technologies and systems being introduced to the market. The AWWA and WEFTEC annual events are always on my calendar, and I’ve attended all of the associations’ specialty conferences at least once or twice.

Recently I had the chance to attend an event that was outside my comfort zone - The Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo. While a portion of the event was dedicated to owners & operators of companies that maintain on-site septic systems, portable toilets, and similar activities, a significant percentage focused on sewer system cleaning and rehabilitation, pipe lining and repair, and pipeline inspection systems.

It was interesting crowd - a lot more folks in blue jeans and baseball caps than I’m accustomed to seeing at the typical water shows. While there were municipal utility employees in attendance, a large part of the crowd were independent contractors and their employees.

There were only seven education tracks during the one-day conference, but the rooms were large and the sessions were very well attended. Sessions that I found interesting were “Four Keys to Quality Jetting,” presented by the WaterJet Technology Association, and “Manhole Rehabilitation” and “Lateral Rehabilitation Utilizing CIPP”, both presented by the National Association of Sewer Service Companies.

I didn’t realize there was such a science to water jet systems used to clean sewer lines. There’s a lot more involved than just putting a high-pressure hose down a manhole - including the possibility that the jet-head can turn around inside the sewer and end up zapping the un-wary operator.

The number of people on the exhibit floor was simply amazing. I’m talking slow-walking thru crowds of people filling the isles. The only time I’ve ever seen that many people on an exhibit floor was at a spring Home & Garden show in Tulsa.

There were a significant number of companies on hand exhibiting pipe and manhole repair products and camera inspection systems. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a show aimed at owners/operators of vacuum and jetting trucks would grow to include such technologies. When they’re called upon to clean a pipe or manhole, the contractors would need to inspect the lines before and after the project. And cleaning a line routinely exposes problems that need either spot repairs or complete rehabilitation.

According to one operator I talked with, it’s not uncommon for a sewer pipe to begin leaking after it’s been cleaned, since a thick coating of grease, rust and other nastiness can effectively plug smaller holes and cracks in non-pressure lines.

Given the state of the underground infrastructure in the United States, sewer cleaning and rehab is a growth industry and speakers at the Pumper & Cleaner show predicted a booming market for the foreseeable future. While larger cities and towns might purchase their own equipment, a lot of the work is being contracted out to the type of smaller independent operators who attended the show.

Taking on dirty jobs, like cleaning sewers, can be a profitable business. More than once I heard someone comment that the aroma normally associated with wastewater “Smells like Money!”

James Laughlin, Editor

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