SAWS Smoke Testing Sewers to Ensure Water Safety

San Antonio Water System is conducting mandated smoke-testing of sewer laterals over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone to prevent sewer leaks that could affect drinking water quality.

SAWS contractors, Burgess & Niple and RJN, will progress street-by-street in recharge zone areas. To perform the tests, contractors open manholes to send a special non-toxic smoke through sewer lines and laterals on private property homes and businesses. If no lateral defects are found, the smoke will emerge from sewer vents on the roof of a house. If defects are found, smoke may appear in yards.

Smoke escaping up from sewer laterals will be visible as it comes up from the ground, indicating a leak. Leaking sewage from private laterals over the recharge zone represents a risk to water quality in the Edwards Aquifer. The smoke testing program is required to be conducted every five years by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). SAWS last conducted this testing in 2014.

“Inspecting the sewer system over the recharge zone is an important part of protecting water quality for our customers,” said Jeff Haby, SAWS Vice President of Production and Treatment. “Throughout this testing process, we work with the city fire departments to let them know about smoke testing in the area. We also provide post cards and door hangers before and after testing to let people know. But just in case, we are asking the media for assistance in getting the word out.”

Prior to the testing, residents have been/are notified multiple times: first via postcard explaining the testing that will occur over the entire area, then as testing approaches their specific area signs are posted at the entrances of the neighborhood, and finally via a door hanger once the crews will be on their street. Residents do not need to be home during smoke testing but to best keep smoke out of buildings, homeowners should run or pour water into  all drains (i.e. sinks, toilets, baths and showers) when the door hanger is received or at any point before testing date. If a problem is found, a final door hanger is left behind and a flag will be placed in the area smoke was observed. A mailed letter with more details will follow. SAWS contractors and personnel wear uniforms and carry identification badges.