Top 5 Signs Your Lift Station Needs Rehabilitation

As infrastructure ages, you will need to prioritize which items to fix first. You need to determine which items to do this year and which items can wait for future plans. How do you know when it is time to put a lift station at the top of the list? Below are 5 signs that your lift station is nearing the end of their usable life cycle.

1. Clogged Pumps – Have your maintenance crews been spending an inordinate amount of time and resources addressing clogged pumps? Rags, sanitary products, and many other items find their way into your city’s sanitary sewer, but cannot be passed by the old style impellers. It might be time to upgrade your pumps to modern non-clog impellers to address this maintenance nightmare.

2. Increased Pump Runtimes – Over time, pumps lose their efficiency causing them to generate less flow at lower velocities. This can cause solids to settle in the forcemain and exacerbate the pump inefficiencies. Compare your electricity bills over time. If the number of kilowatt hours used has gone up, it might be time to dig into the issue.

3. Electrical & Communication Failures – Old starters, leaking mechanical seals, electrical service changes: these items can cause tripped circuit breakers and blown fuses. If your SCADA system isn’t communicating these failures to maintenance staff, you might find out from an angry resident with sewage backup in their basement. Electrical and communication upgrades will help your staff maintain real-time status updates and put your mind at ease.

4. Degraded Concrete, Piping & Equipment – Sanitary sewage can generate corrosive hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas that chews up the lift station concrete, pump rails, piping, hatches, and valves. Ensuring proper pump cycles and providing mixing to break up gas producing materials in the lift station can help reduce gas generation, but it may also be necessary to coat the concrete with a corrosion resistant barrier and replace lift station equipment with more robust materials. Have the field crew take photos for you to review.

5. Safety – Are your lift station hatches equipped with fall protection? Are your workers using tripods with harnesses for lift station access, or are they relying on deteriorated manhole steps? Review the safety features of your lift stations and make sure your crew has the right equipment to do their job safely. Lift stations are a very hazardous environment, but simple safety features and protocols can make all the difference.

If you are experiencing any of these issues or want more information, we can help.

WSB hires new director of Rochester operations

Rochester, Minn. – Engineering and consulting firm WSB today announced that Chris Petree is joining the organization as the director of Rochester operations. As the former public works director for the City of Rochester, Petree joins the firm with more than two decades of experience working for municipalities.

“I am thrilled to welcome Chris to our firm. For several years, he has partnered with WSB on many projects and I am confident that he will help drive momentum for WSB,” said Bret Weiss, WSB’s President & CEO. “Chris is known for his leadership and commitment to the public works industry. I look forward to introducing him to our clients and the entire WSB team.”

In his previous role with the City of Rochester, Petree was responsible for the supervision, management, planning and coordination of all activities of the Rochester Public Works department, from transit and land development to wastewater and stormwater management, as well as the oversight of 160 employees and a multi-million-dollar annual operating budget. Petree also previously served as public works director for the cities of Lakeville and Hugo.

“We are so fortunate to have Chris join our municipal team here at WSB,” said Monica Heil, WSB’s senior director of Municipal Services. “His strong connection to the community and extensive experience working with cities across a variety of services make him an invaluable addition to our operations.”

As part of WSB’s municipal team, Petree will lead operations and projects in Rochester, oversee the firm’s work in southeast Minnesota, and support clients across all offices by sharing best practices around project management, quality control and client engagement. As a consulting engineering firm, WSB often works with municipal clients on projects ranging from public engagement plans to road improvements.

“I’ve worked alongside WSB for over 20 years and I am thrilled to be joining their team,” said Petree. “I look forward to delivering for our clients in the Rochester area and supporting our efforts across the country.” 

The Role of Zoning in Comprehensive Plan Implementation

Molly Just, Sr Planner, WSB

So, your comprehensive plan is done – and everyone is breathing a big sigh of relief. Now what?

A community’s comprehensive plan includes recommendations on land use, housing, and other areas that are described and enforced by that city’s zoning ordinance and subdivision ordinance. Without updating the zoning ordinance many planning goals may not be attainable. Zoning is important to promote and manage growth and to help residents and businesses manage expectations about what they and their neighbors can do with their property. Simply put, you can’t attain the development goals established in a comprehensive plan without a zoning ordinance.

A sense of relief and accomplishment at the end of the comprehensive planning process is understandable; it can take years to update a comprehensive plan. As a former local government planner, I have been asked many times if a plan will just “sit on the shelf.” This often stems from a lack of ability to build the plan. Zoning means different things to different stakeholders. For developers, zoning is a building tool. For residents, it is a tool used for protection from the unknown. For local government, it is a tool to promote the prosperity, health, and welfare of the whole community. For planners, zoning is a tool to achieve the plan goals. Turning a comprehensive plan into a reality can be largely based on the zoning ordinance. An update to the zoning ordinance should be incorporated when updating a comprehensive plan.  

Here are four reasons to update your zoning ordinance:

  • An update leads to increased buy-in from elected officials and community stakeholders.  Planning is a visionary process. If stakeholders know that the zoning comes next, they may be more likely to participate and stay involved. The zoning ordinance puts plans into action.    
  • It helps ensure the zoning work will be completed and budgeted for in advance of planning fatigue that can overwhelm the late phases of updating the comprehensive plan. 
  • The comprehensive plan visioning may be stronger with the knowledge that zoning should occur immediately following completion. The comp plan will be more targeted to the conditions of the community and supported by stakeholders and elected officials. In other words, visions are rightsized to the community.
  • The plan visions may be sooner realized. Oftentimes planning fatigue and competition for staff time and resources result in zoning updates being pushed off for months or years, potentially resulting in legal challenges or extended project timelines.

And beyond just planning for the zoning update, here are six reasons to update your zoning ordinance:

  • Legal protection.  Zoning decisions that have no basis in the comprehensive plan are more successfully challenged in court.  There must be a rational basis for zoning decisions and requirements.  Additionally, cities in the Twin Cities metropolitan area must comply with the Metropolitan Land Planning Act which imposes certain mandatory zoning and regulatory requirements and requires that zoning directives harmonize with and not contradict the comprehensive plan. 
  • To reflect federal and state law pertaining to land use and zoning.  For example, how we regulate non-conformities has changed in Minnesota, with local authority over non-conformities weakening.  Also, legal decisions regarding signage impact how local government reviews sign applications.
  • To incorporate plain language and resolve internal conflicts that are the result of decades of incremental updates.  The use of plain and clear language to define uses and terms strengthens the legal standing of ordinance interpretations. 
  • To address confusing concepts that have led to inconsistent application of code.  Modern zoning codes use graphics to illustrate concepts such as setbacks, lot coverage, and floor area ratio.
  • To adapt to societal changes that conflict with narrow use categories and single-use zoning, such as allowing home offices, businesses, accessory units, and accessory structures within homes and on single-family lots.
  • To incorporate best practices in land use and development that focus on how a building fits into its context and ways to mitigate use conflicts rather than narrowly legislate use of private property.

Although, there are many factors that determine how quickly a comprehensive plan can become a reality, zoning is certainly not a factor to discard.