Blog posts for the weekly #TopekaTweetALongs. Follow @cityoftopeka on Twitter if you want the live action coverage. for collection of tweets.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sewer TV

TL;DR: Topeka has a crew that goes out every weekday, video taping sewer and stormwater lines for defects and blockages. Don't flush anything down the toilet you don't want seen by our crews. And definitely not grease.

Richard Martinez and Mark Vincent.

The next time you think about flushing something...strange...down the toilet, you might think of their names first.
And now you can picture their faces.
If it blocks the line, chances are, they'll find out what it is, and they'll get it all on video.

Martinez and Vincent are CCTV operators on Topeka'sWater Pollution Control team. That means they go out each weekday, televising sewer and stormwater mains for defects and blockages.

That's right. Camera + sewer lines. They've seen some ... stuff ... literally. (word choice for the younger viewers).
The camera crawler is kind of cute, right? Just me?

"When people hear what I do," Martinez said, "they say, 'Oh, man, what a cruddy job.' But I like my job. I think it's interesting, what I do. I get to solve problems. And we are out trying to do something to protect the environment, by getting sewage to the plant, where it needs to be."

What do they see on that camera of theirs, specifically? Well, other than the occasional crack or root ball (literally, a ball of roots that blocks the pipe), they see lots of spiders, webs, rats and snakes. That makes sense, right? The lines are underground.

But they also see all the stuff we flush....

This is a root ball. Sewer line nearly 100% blocked.
Children's toys. Jewelry. Clothing. Guns. Money. One time, someone was stashing new computers in a line. Another time, they found a partially decomposed deer carcass in a manhole.

"That was the one time I came close to throwing up on this job," Vincent said.

Martinez and Vincent don't do this because they want to see what we flush down our toilets (though, as mentioned above, I think we can consider it a perk.) They do it so they can find defects and blockages in the line, so we can be proactive about fixing our pipes and prevent backups and breaks whenever possible.

Vactor truck to save the day!
Wednesday, we went on a quality check near Wood Valley. Their "camera crawler" found quite a bit of root penetration, so they actually had to call in a water truck to use a root saw to clear it out. There's a video on the twitter feed, if you want to take a look.

Right now, the City only has one crew, but we are getting a second by the start of next year. This single crew cameras (yes, I made it a verb) 100,000 feet of sanitary/stormwater lines each year. However, Topeka has more than 800 miles of sewer lines, and about 300 miles on the stormwater side.

They control it with an XBox controller. No lie.
About the only way to know if your line has a problem is when it's too late -- and there is sewage pooling in your basement. You can pay a plumber to audit your line, if you are concerned about it. If you do find yourself standing ankle deep in, well, waste, call 785-368-3111 to let us know immediately.

To prevent blockages and breaks, invest in plastic lines when you have the choice -- they aren't as susceptible to root penetration. And don't put grease down any of your drains. As Vincent says, "it turns to cement" in the line.

Also, be wary of what you flush down that toilet. Chances are, Martinez and Vincent will see it....and no one wants that.

If you want to see more photo and some video of the Tweet-A-Long, check out


  1. HA! They say there's a job for everybody, but this one certainly takes the cake. I do have to give Richard and Mark a hearty pat on the back. If you're going to dig through someone's swampy sewage, might as well share it with the rest of the world. Don't know how much ... stuff ... I want to see, but this story made my day.

    Darryl Housand @ Haaker Equipment Company

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  3. Really cool camera and truck.
    Does your crawler support installation of 3d sonar and 3d laser profiller like ours?

  4. I bet the stuff that this crew has pulled out of the sewer, or seen floating by, makes a wonderful story. I would love to have coffee with this team and chat about some of the crazy stuff they've seen. I would prefer that they shower and wash their hands first! Is there a stream somewhere to see the video feed?