It's a smelly job, but someone's got to do it

#topekatweetalong went around on some pump runs. Words didn't do the smells justice.


  1. Starting with the background, because this one goes down a bit of a rabbit hole, and I want to make sure I get the information across before you're entertained by my misery.
  2. So the City has pump crews who work maintenance for our pump stations. There are 84 (!) in the City, and they all are inspected about once a week, to make sure things are working right.
  3. We'll have crews working over the holiday, so maybe give them a thought while you're enjoying family time (though, after reading this, maybe wait until after dinner...way after.)
  4. The City's waste and stormwater system works like this: The pipes from your toilet lead to a pump station near your house. That pump station has pipes connecting it to a larger pump station down the line to a main pump station (like the ones we visited in this tweet-a-long). All those main pump stations feed into our two wastewater treatment plants, Oakland and North Topeka, where the sewage is treated before it goes back out to the Kansas River.
  5. We need pumps, because we use the flow of gravity to move our waste (common saying at WPC is "poo literally runs downhill"). If we didn't pump it back up toward the surface, our infrastructure would be hundreds and hundreds of feet into the ground. Or the sewage may not be able to flow, because the land in some parts of town is too flat for pipes to be sloped correctly.
  6. The main pump stations have these nightmarish rooms with bar screens. Bar screens collect larger items from the waste stream to keep the lines clear. Our vactor truck crews help minimize some of that, but some things (looking at you, ladies) make it through.
  7. Really, nothing but toilet paper and, as Young put it, "your business," should go down the toilet. Even something as seemingly innocuous as baby wipes can clog up and stop pumps, he said.
  8. Now to the part where you learn the details of this job -- hope you haven't eaten in a while.
  9. So if you've worked in fast food, you likely know the telltale odor of a grease trap. Imagine an entire room filled with that smell, and you'll have a good idea of what the bar screen room at Pump Station 3 is like.
  10. Which makes sense, because it's out by Resers. (If you look closely at this picture, you can see a plastic glove).
  11. Fine. Smelly, but not a huge deal.
  12. But nothing, NOTHING, could prepare me for the bar screen room at Pump Station 7 (If I ever write a horror novel, that's the title. So we're clear.) I was in there less than 2 minutes before I had to step outside and try to keep my breakfast down.
  13. Unlike the materials caught by the bar screen at Pump Station 3, City crews actually have to scoop out the "goodies and tidbits" (as maintenance mechanic Micah Young puts it) by hand.
  14. At the other main pump stations, a machine squeezes out the water and the materials get loaded into a trash bin for the solid waste crews to pick up. Like so:
  15. The main pump stations, with bar screens, have odor control mechanisms, so we don't smell our waste while we drive through town.