How Does a Sewer Pump Station Work? | Sewer School

Posted by Olivia Singer on May 7, 2021

Generally speaking, pump stations are used to help transport fluids from one point to another. They play an integral role in a handful of infrastructure systems, including sewers. Many sewer systems rely on pumping stations, or lift stations, to push wastewater from point A to point B, especially in cases where gravity can’t move flow from a low-lying area to higher ground. 

So How Exactly Do Lift Stations Work?

Sewer pump stations are equipped with a large underground receiving tank, commonly referred to as a wet well, to collect the wastewater from homes and buildings sitting in low elevations. An electrical pump is set to trigger once the wet well fills to a predetermined point over a period of time—detected using electrical instrumentation. A pump and pressurized pipe system, or sewer force main, lifts the wastewater upwards to higher ground, joining other nearby wastewater in the sewer main on its way to a plant for treatment. During peak flow periods and wet weather seasons, additional pumps may trigger to move the excess fluids along. 

Pump stations provide a reliable solution in areas where gravity can’t be used to transport wastewater, due to the topography of the land or the layout of local infrastructure. And they provide a more affordable and far less disruptive solution than excavating to install gravity sewer lines.

Video Credit: Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) 

Maintaining Sewer Pump Stations

Much like the rest of a sewer system, pump stations need to be monitored to ensure proper function and to avoid any disruptions. Many pump stations are equipped with remote monitoring systems so operators can understand its condition without having to go on site. The electrical instrumentation used to trigger the pump is also usually able to alert operators if there’s an issue before a bigger one occurs—like an overflow. 

“Lift station operation is usually automated, so facilities don't require on-site operators,” according to Sensaphone, which manufactures remote monitoring solutions. “It is very common for operators to conduct weekly inspections to identify potential problems. During these inspections, they check pumps, motors and drives for unusual noise, vibration, heat, and leaks. They might also look for leaking discharge lines and check control panel switches, pump speed, suction, discharge rates and pressure.”

A Municipality's Responsibility

The number of pump stations and pumps in a municipality’s wastewater system varies greatly depending on the topography, age and location of the area it services, among other factors.

“Depending on the size of the communities they serve, municipal wastewater utilities might need to maintain hundreds of lift stations in remote locations,” according to Sensaphone. “Small stations that handle less than 700 gallons per minute generally have two pumps, while larger lift stations with greater inflows use many more pumps.”

Sewer systems are essential to the wellbeing of a community. They help to transport wastewater filled with bacteria out of the area and to a place for treatment, so that clean water can be safely distributed back into the environment. But there’s a lot that goes into maintaining this essential infrastructure, and every section of it requires routine inspections and upkeep to protect the community it serves.

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