Over the Northern winter we read with interest a number of stories related to frozen vacuum systems. It was caused by some of the worst winters seen in 100 years in the North East of America. These stories have increased in recent years with some commentators talking about the reality of climate change and its impact on many types of infrastructure, not just sewerage.
To understand some of the problems you need to go no further than googling “Plum Island frozen sewers”. The main problems seemed to be related to frozen vacuum valves, water frozen in the pits, goose neck vents submerged by snow, frozen sewage in the pipework, frozen gate valves and division valves and leaks in the line.
Does this need to be the case every year that there is a big dump of snow or temperatures fall? Aren’t vacuum system supposed to be resilient? We don’t have to look as far afield as the vacuum systems in Alaska or even at the Arctic and Antarctic bases to get some solutions to the problems encountered in America. Germany, France, Poland the UK and some of the Nordic countries like Estonia have experienced very low temperatures and extreme snow falls from time to time with little impact on their vacuum systems.
As an engineering firm we need to be aware of local conditions where ever we install a system whether it is in the arid desert of Australia, tropical conditions in Malaysia, remote islands in the Cocos Islands. All systems should be designed to suit the local conditions.
This would have helped a lot in the Plum island project as any valve failures would have been easily and quickly located due to freezing ensuring no loss of service for residents or sewage overflows into their basements.