Stories from the Sewer
TREKK Design Group provides many different services such as transportation design, construction inspection, survey, asset management, and GIS. Another large segment of our services falls within the corner that I work within: TREKK’s water and wastewater department.
Over the years, a number of off the cuff stories have been shared about the sewer business. Here’s a compilation of a few memorable ones that individuals at TREKK have experienced. Enjoy!
“Fun things happen to us all the time, man. The stories, they come from all over the place.”
-Robby Hartpence, Field Manager
Ballpark Village – Meet This Community
St. Louis, Missouri is known for having a growing large sewer system. TREKK has inspected some very large sewers in many different cities, but never one quite as inviting as in St. Louis, MO:
“We did a sewer walk a few years ago downtown. It was this real large underground tunnel, almost felt like a subway system or something. We were taking some measurements and doing a general assessment of what all was down there, where the sewer was located, and came across a portion where the street was starting to cave-in. Well, we also came across some kind of homeless village. Sofas and tents all over the place, there were little huts burrowed in the walls with plywood, tarps, and all. There were a couple hundred people – it was like a community down there.”
-Ron Thomann, Project Manager
“That was a crazy experience. Seeing all of those people come out of nowhere. There were tents and tarps and they had a seating area and tables. They just didn’t have power but it was pretty much like a house, just under the city.”
-Jose De Los Santos, Field Technician
Storm Sewer Clean-Up After Hurricane Katrina
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, thousands of individuals helped do all that they could to help mitigate the disaster as quickly as possible. Everyone remembers the images of New Orleans after the storm ravaged the city and surrounding areas.
TREKK was contacted by another Kansas City based firm, Ace Pipe Cleaning, to help clean storm sewers throughout New Orleans. Six crew members traveled down to New Orleans. They recount the moving experience:
“We were down there for about two and a half months. Most of the time we were cleaning storm sewers. The streets weren’t cleaned at all yet so it was a little difficult to get around. We stayed in a church for the first month and a half or so – there was a hole in the roof of (the church)” – David Hamberlin, Regional Office Manager
“The church allowed us to stay there and they set up some makeshift showers and things like that for us. We’d sleep on the sanctuary floor at night and during the day head to these little tents Red Cross had set up for the few people that were still there. One of the things that sticks out to me were the streets – there was lots of silt and mud everywhere. In the flooded areas you couldn’t drive in your lane. It was such a muddy, slippery mess that your truck would slide to the curb and all you could do was slide down the road bumping off curbs. The work consisted of cleaning storm sewers – we’d vacuum up a ton of seashells, lots of mud, building materials and a fair amount of bricks. Another thing that sticks out was the spray painted X’s or crosses on all the buildings. I don’t remember what each quadrant meant, but it seemed like about every building had one of those X’s.” Lemuel Tjardes, CADD Technician
Those spray painted X’s, later known as “Katrina crosses” share another profound story: < click here >
The City of New Orleans has also documented this history from many City water and sewer employees as they worked to dewater the city only eleven days after the levees were repaired. These are known as ‘Katrina Heroes My Stories’: < click here, they are at the bottom of the page >
OK Creek Sewer
In the past few years, TREKK has performed a number of sewer walks to help determine the condition and exact routing of these very large storage structures. These structures are often very large and very old and require an immense amount of planning to ensure that the work is performed safely.
“We walked a sewer over by OK Creek. When we scouted it out, it was pretty clear that the flow levels were relatively low, but the structure itself was quite large (18 feet by 16 feet). We get about 1,000 feet or so in and the flow has gotten a little higher, nearly up to our knees, but you can tell it’s not going to get any higher in front of us. The pipe we were walking down was a double box culvert and merges into one large egg-shaped pipe that’s about 25 feet tall. My partner took a few steps in front of us, into this new opening, and dropped into three to four feet of (excrement) – right up to his waders. The entire bottom of the pipe was missing or eroded away.” -Jonathan Lyke, Project Coordinator
Although there is some humor regarding a scenario that someone goes swimming in the sewer, I want to point out that safety was of chief concern with this project. TREKK spent many hours ensuring that this project was performed correctly and safely.
Ever Find Anything Interesting On The Job?
“A riding lawn mower in a combined sewer system. It was over by Arrowhead Stadium. I guess somebody drove it on in and just left it there.” -Ron Thomann, Project Manager
“Down in Paris, TX I found 25 or 30 old silver dollars. They were all from the late 1800s, in the 1890s. Another odd one was over by the Leavenworth prison – we found a ton of old buttons. I’m talking thousands of these and they were labeled as Leavenworth Penitentiary. Talked to the guy at the prison and he said they had to have been from a long, long time ago, (because) there are no buttons on the uniforms anymore.” -Dennis Major, Jetter Operator
“When I worked in the field, I always kept my flip phone on my hip. I was working in Omaha and getting lowered into a structure and, you know, the harness really rides up on you. I didn’t notice it, but I think my phone rode down all the way on the side of my hoodie (instead of clipped to my hip). When my feet hit the bottom of the structure, I heard this ‘plop’ and, yeah, my phone dropped right in the channel. I took a step to grab it and ‘clank’ – my cable and harness pulled me back. I was 6 inches away, but my phone ran on down with the current.”
“Well, that didn’t stop us from working. And you won’t believe it, but four manholes downstream, I found it. There was a little bend in the channel and right there is my blue and silver flip-phone.”
I had to ask… Did you keep using the phone? “Yeah. I just scrubbed it down with bleach water, let it set on the dash for a few days to dry out, and used it for another year and a half or two years.” -Lemuel Tjardes, CADD Technician
Lions, Tigers, and … Corvettes? Oh my.
TREKK often performs smoke testing of sanitary sewers to help determine how the system is set-up and where possible illicit connections may exist. Typically smoke testing investigations will lead to determining why and where possible large amounts of rainwater may be entering the sanitary sewer.
Smoke testing requires ample notification to all properties and individuals in the area affected by smoke. For example, local fire departments are always notified well in advance to help prevent unnecessary mobilization if calls come in stating that there’s smoke in said area. It’s pretty common for folks to call 911 if they see smoke billowing out from a building or area an illicit connection exists. Understandable, right?
Remembers Associate Lucas Gillen: “Smoke testing at the Kansas City Zoo was a whole day deal. Everyone we had was there to make sure everything went as planned.” The project and smoke testing itself was planned out and went well all day. “We’re finishing up, heading out to the parking lot and there’s a car on fire – and it’s a corvette. A nice corvette!”
“I ran to an admin building of the zoo, running around looking for a fire extinguisher. I came up to someone who was on the phone… they couldn’t help me. So I ran to another room and opened up a supply closet to find the motherload of all fire extinguishers. This must have been the supply closet for all the extinguishers for the whole zoo. I grabbed the two biggest fire extinguishers I could and took off toward that parking lot.”
“Lucas was running about as fast as I’ve ever seen him with those fire extinguishers. But it all turned out fine; the fire department showed up, and I think the project helped them out.” -Tim Osborn, CCTV Operator
TREKK was able to help find the source contributing heavy flows to that area of the system. And the fire department was prepared and able to help everyone out, especially the owner of that Corvette!
Stories help IMPROVE LIVES. Special thanks to everyone that helped share their personal stories from working in the sewer business over the years. If you have any memorable stories to share, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
TREKK Design Group acquires mobile LiDAR firm Terrametrix, Inc.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City-based civil engineering firm, TREKK Design Group, LLC, (TREKK) has acquired Terrametrix, Inc., a mobile LiDAR provider based in Omaha, Nebraska.
Founded in 2008, Terrametrix provides mobile LiDAR survey technology to clients across the country. LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses laser scanning and navigation to provide safe and efficient survey-grade data acquisition and processing.
“Adding Terrametrix’s expertise strengthens TREKK’s commitment to providing holistic, common sense solutions through the use of technology and innovation, while helping us to improve lives in the communities we serve,” said TREKK Managing Partner, Kimberly Robinett. “This is an exciting time for mobile LiDAR, and this merger will intensify and strengthen our ability to serve our clients.”
Terrametrix’s five person staff will join TREKK’s survey practice, which provides traditional land surveying on a variety of transportation, wastewater, water and stormwater projects.
“TREKK’s experience in civil engineering design and its commitment to safety makes mobile LiDAR technology the perfect tool to expand TREKK’s services and provide added value to its clients. It’s no surprise the Terrametrix team has landed at TREKK.” said Terrametrix CEO Michael Frecks, PLS, who will now serve as TREKK’s LiDAR Survey Manager.
Terrametrix will operate as “Terrametrix, a TREKK company” for a six-month transitional period. It will assume the TREKK Design Group name later this summer. Terms of the acquisition will not be released.
About TREKK Design Group. TREKK Design Group is a multi-disciplined, women-owned civil engineering firm, committed to helping municipal, state and Federal agencies and private developers across Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Tennessee plan, build and maintain infrastructure. TREKK is certified as a Small Business SBA 8(a) Enterprise and Disadvantaged/ Women Owned Business Enterprise (D/WBE).
The recent flooding of Indian Creek that led to the damage and closing of Coach’s Bar and Grill has brought much attention from local papers and news stations. Several local media outlets have presented the flood as a “100 year flood event.” But what makes a flood a “100 year flood”?
Due to the nomenclature of the 100-year flood, many are often confused as to the likelihood of such an event happening, and, as a consequence, may under prepare or under insure with the illusion that a flood of this magnitude is a once-in-a-lifetime event. A 100-year flood event should statistically happen once every 100 years over a long time period, or have just a 1 percent chance of occurring within any given year. When people hear that a 100-year flood has occurred on a particular river, they may incorrectly assume that a flood of that magnitude should not happen again for roughly another 100 years. This is the same logical fallacy that would lead one to believe that flipping a coin and it coming up heads four times in a row is far more unlikely that flipping alternating heads and tails four times (statistically speaking, each are equally likely). Probabilities of this time scale should only be applied over long time horizons and cannot be accurately applied to short time periods. Therefore, back-to-back rare events may be more common than one would originally believe.
In addition to misinterpreting the definition a 100-year flood, there are a few other issues that can lead to error in attempting to predict such an event.
First, there is a common misconception that a 100-year storm event will always lead to a 100-year flood. While the classification of a storm event will affect the significance of a flood, many other factors contribute to a river’s flood levels, such as the current soil saturation or the coverage of a particular storm within a watershed. For example, a 100- year storm may only affect a small portion of a dry watershed area, thus only leading to a downstream river reaching 20 year or a 50 year flood levels. On the other hand, a less intense rain event on top of fully saturated soil may lead to more significant flooding.
Second, a 100-year flood event is only an approximation based on past data and is no guarantee of future outcomes. Because of the uncommon distribution of flood levels, there is no significant correlation with any common mathematical distribution to accurately estimate the actual probabilities of flood events. Whereas a human’s height or test scores can be normally distributed and graphically represented with a bell curve, the distribution of flood events cannot. Although the U.S. government has stated that flood events should be estimated using a Log Pearson Type III distribution, this distribution is by no means a perfect way to accurately predict flood events and must be used with caution.
Finally, it must be noted that the 100-year flood level is dynamic and can be reduced with good engineering. The probability of the 100-year flood level being reached within any given year is estimated at 1 percent. Because peak river levels are largely affected by increased runoff, an increase in urbanization and development may lead to an increase in the 100- year flood levels downstream, putting more homes and businesses at risk for flooding. However, through the use of detention basins or retention ponds and technologies like permeable pavements, runoff quantities can be reduced and subsequently lead to lower river levels during 100-year flood events.
In conclusion, extra caution must be taken when designing for low probability events, such as the frequency or level of a 100 year flood, regardless of how unlikely the event may seem at first glance. Through the intelligent use of detention and retention systems, the impact and loss of major flood events can be decreased for all homes and businesses downstream of urbanized areas.
— Derrick Price, Project Engineer
The recent flash flooding of Indian Creek in South Kansas City resulted in major repercussions for homes and businesses near the creek. Storm watch rain gauges located near Holmes Road and 103rd Street in Kansas City indicated an average of 4.69 inches of rain over a 24 hour period. The highest intensity of rainfall fell between 2AM and 5AM on July 27, 2017, totaling 3.8 inches in just that narrow three-hour window.
Several of the restaurants and businesses that run the span of 103rd Street between State Line and Wornall roads were inundated with water. We at TREKK are saddened by the damages and losses to businesses along 103rd Street, including Coach’s Bar & Grill, which has been in business for more than 34 years.
As a GIS specialist at TREKK, my focus is primarily on water and wastewater data collection and management. Events like this flood remind me why I, along with my team of amazing field personnel and fellow office staff members, work every day to help manage these problems.
Why am I so passionate about this issue?
Storm water is the leading cause of pollution to our communities. While this may seem like a significant problem only when the wet weather event is actively creating chaos, the damage will far out-live the receding waters. When flooding occurs, pollutants like the oil from vehicles, chemicals and solid deposits gather and get distributed into the waterways. These events are devastating to the aquatic life and animals that rely on these waterways. A wet weather event like this and even those with far less intensity can cause problems, such as sanitary sewer overflows into streams and creeks, as well as backups into basements.
Sanitary sewers are designed to handle domestic wastewater flows from buildings and become overloaded during these extreme rain events when excessive storm water leaks into the system. Excessive flows enter the system through defects like cracks or offset joints in the pipes and through illicit connections on private property. When the pipe has reached full capacity, the polluted water overflows wherever there is a path of least resistance.
Local governments spend an exuberant amount of money trying to rectify the damages to both private and public property caused by flooding. It is the efforts of the government, community and the people who are passionate about water/wastewater management that create and maintain a sustainable system with the hopes that flooding can be reduced or eliminated.
— Joann Smith, GIS Analyst
With the help of Officer Kaiser of the KCMO Traffic Unit, Joann took these photos at 8:15AM, nearly three hours after the conclusion of the rain event at the Indian Creek and Holmes Road intersection.
For our Springfield Office, 2017 is easily our biggest year for flow monitoring to date. Across seven projects, we have upwards of 70 meters in the ground and more than 20 rain gauges across southwest Missouri. TREKK’s field crews work diligently to interrogate and maintain our monitoring equipment and bring in large volumes of data. Our technicians, project managers, and clients are excited to see the data and the story that it tells.
We are often so focused on the final product, however, that we forget the journey the data goes through to be presentable to our clients.
During our first week of flow monitoring, I asked a coworker if I could help with some of the flow monitoring data. I was tasked with formatting data that would be imported into our analyzing software. We could easily spend two or three minutes formatting each file, and I realized we could save time and frustration by automating this process. This led me to start exploring Microsoft Excel macros and I was quickly able to reduce the formatting step to the click of a button. This first step grew into developing three new tools that automate, process and detect errors in the data that we collect.
Upon reflection, I realized that our motto of IMPROVING LIVES has many different applications. By working together with my coworkers, we were able to refine our process and make the job easier by eliminating some of the tedious time spent formatting and processing data. This allows for our technicians to streamline data processing and deliver quality information quickly and accurately to our project managers and to our clients. It is another way that TREKK is IMPROVING LIVES.
-Ralph Hill, Engineering Technician