ISPE Updating Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois

Below is a press release from the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers regarding an update to the Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois:

Recommendations Sought for Illinois Water & Sewer Construction Guide

Comment Period Open through April 16

(Springfield, Ill.)  The Illinois Society of Professional Engineers along with partner organizations seek recommended updates to the 2009 Standard Specifications for Water & Sewer Construction in Illinois.  Submissions will be accepted via email between January 9 and April 16, 2013.  This construction guide is used by designers and contractors to guide the construction and installation of water, storm water, and sanitary sewer infrastructure throughout the state.

“In an attempt to remain current with the constantly evolving construction industry, ISPE and the Standard Specifications committee will undergo an update process to the 2009 Standard Specifications for Water and Sewer Construction in Illinois,” according to Dan Figola, PE, LEED AP, chair of the committee.    “This will be a quadrennial update rather than a rewrite, which was undertaken in 2009.”  The entire update will occur during calendar year 2013. 

The schedule for the update process is as follows:

  • January 9 – April 16, 2013 – Submission Period
  • April – September, 2013  – Submission Review Period
  • October – November, 2013  – Finalization of Revised Sections
  • December, 2013 – Printing

The manner for distributing updates will be announced in early Fall 2013.


Those wishing to submit changes for consideration should email the recommendations to   Submission guidelines include:

  • Provide complete contact information of the individual making the submission, including name, title, company, address, phone number, email address and role in the water/sewer system (design engineer, contractor, municipal official/public works profession, sanitary district).
  • Amendments to different sections should be submitted as separate documents.
  • List the section to be amended at the top of the first page.
  • Include supporting documentation for the change, including any ASTM, ASHTO or IDOT specifications, Illinois or US EPA guidelines.


The 2009 Standard Specifications for Water & Sewer Construction in Illinois is available through the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers.  Order forms can be found at


Orangeburg – a “coal tar impregnated toilet paper tube”

As a homeowner, Orangeburg is most definitely not the word you ever want to hear. But for many, they will not only hear it, but they will also face the consequences of having had this pipe material used for their home's sanitary sewer. So to prevent experiencing any unforseen problems caused by this material, it's best to learn what Orangeburg is and understand what can happen and what should be done if you find out this is the material carrying sewage from your home.

The culpret


What is Orangeburg Pipe?

The following definition of Orangeburg comes from a publication prepared by the City of Ann Arbor, Mich.:

"Technically, the term 'Orangeburg' is the brand name of a sewer pipe made by the Orangeburg Manufacturing Co., Inc. of Orangeburg, New York. The generic name for this type of pipe is 'bituminous fiber pipe.'  The pipe is made of a combination of cellulose and asbestos fibers impregnated with a bituminous (coal tar) compound.  Bituminous fiber pipe was manufactured with either a homogenous wall or a multiple-ply laminated wall.  The ends of the pipe were tapered and fitted together using a butt joint."

Thus the description of a "coal tar impregnated toilet paper tube" offered on the Sewer History site. The site also indicates the manufacture of this pipe started in the late 1800s. But the pipe did not really become widely popular until the 1950s and 1960s. 

How do I know if my sewer is made of Orangeburg pipe?

Obviously the age of the home will be your first clue. If your home was built in the 1980s or later, there is a good chance you do not have a sewer made of Orangeburg pipe. If your home is older than this, you can start your research by asking staff at your city hall if they know or suspect what your sewer is made of. Many times, city staff become aware through experience of where this type of pipe was installed in their community. Ann Arbor keeps a list of homes where they have discovered its use. If your local government does not know, you can hire a company to use a sewer camera to view the inside of the pipe and try to determine the material. If these methods do not yield any clues, the only way you can really tell is to dig up your yard. But because most people would not do this unless their pipe has failed, usually the material type is discovered after a pipe has become blocked or collapsed and needs to be dug up and repaired.

What is the problem with Orangeburg sewer pipe?

The problem with Orangeburg pipe is that it has a greater failure rate than more traditional materials such as cast iron, clay, or plastic. Because the material is paper-based with a bituminous coating, it is more susceptible to deterioration from chemicals. It is also more likely to fail from the shifting of soil around it. The Orangeburg pipes I have dug up or encountered during construction have looked like wet, slimy, black, squishy old paper. Once they degrade to this point, they can collapse or fail to convey sewage which leads to a backup.

What do I do if I have Orangeburg pipe?

If you discover your sewer is made of Orangeburg pipe, you can first assess its condition through the use of a sewer camera. If it has maintained an open, circular shape, you could choose to leave it in place and regularly monitor its condition. Or if you wanted to completely eliminate any future problems, you could arrange to replace it with newer materials such as plastic.

If the pipe has either failed or is found to be in a poor condition, replacement can be considered. One method of replacement includes digging up the old pipe and installing a new one in its place from your home to the city's sewer. There are also newer technologies involving possible no-dig or minimal dig options. It is best to have a professional assess the situation and offer a recommendation and proposed cost before you decide the best method for you.

Bonus Segment

Here's a YouTube video someone made about their experience with Orangeburg pipe:

Disclaimer: all information offered here is for general knowledge and should not be considered a professional opinion or recommendation. Before making any decisions regarding the investigation and/or repair of a sewer, a professional should be consulted. 


Setting Sustainable Water Rates

Water Distribution

Raising water or sewer rates is never a popular move, and in this economy many have tried to avoid it as if they are fleeing from a zombie apocalypse. But for many utilities expenditures are exceeding revenues, and there's sometimes little choice other than a rate increase. You can only cut so much from a budget before negatively impacting service levels and quality. But is this an unavoidable consequence of a bad economy? And can rates be set to sustain a utility even during times like these? Let's explore the history of rate structure, how it has impacted us today, and some solutions for going forward.

History of Water Rate Structures

In the U.S., there have been basically three types of structures or a mixture of two of the three:

  1. Uniform rates
  2. Increasing rates based on usage
  3. Decreasing rates based on usage

Some utitlities also applied a fixed fee in addition to the rate, but often this was not a significant amount. Water systems also created categories of users sometimes applying different rates to different users. Of the three structures listed above, number three was usually the more popular. After all, water was everywhere! And this was particularly true for cities with a large manufacturing base dependent on water for their process. It was almost as if utilities were begging people to consume water.

Based on stories I've heard from the "old timers," back then the water fund was never out of money. And they could always depend on it to carry the other funds. So what happened?

Water Rates & Water Funds Today

Our country has over the last couple decades transformed their view of water as an unlimited supply. Yes, water never really goes away, but it can become increasingly contaminated or placed into a state that costs significantly more to collect and improve its quality. So our view of water has changed to that of a valuable resource and commodity. And to encourage customers to conserve water, many utilities have changed rates to increase as water usage increases. At the same time, water regulations have significantly increased and only show signs of becoming even more stringent. The net result of all this is people using less water (yay! our conservation methods worked) causing a decrease in revenue (boo! we didn't see that coming!?) and the cost to collect, treat, and deliver water has skyrocketed causing an increase in expenditures. Then on top of that we had the recession with people cutting back even more on water just to save money or leaving behind vacant homes that generate no revenue for utilities.

Of course as they say hindsight is better than foresight. But it's surprising to me how many want to cling to the old ways going forward. Even as revenue is dropping and funds are bleeding, they continue to propose the old water structure of a decreasing rate based on increased usage. And many times with no fixed rate or a very small rate attached. This is simply not sustainable.

Implementing Sustainable Solutions

So what does work? This post cannot begin to offer the right answer for every situation. A good water rate study needs to be customized for each utility. But in general, a good beginning is to look at costs. Fixed costs that are truly independent of water usage need to be separated from costs that fluctuate with water usage. For example, if your water utility has two trucks, it has two trucks. If you normally pump 2 MGD and you change to pumping 1 MGD, you don't get rid of one truck if you still need two for checking your fixed system. Variable costs will include such things as chemicals and electricity.

In addition to costs, you need to look at your users. If you have categories of users such as residential, commercial, and industrial, these need to be analyzed as a group breaking each into usage blocks that make sense. It's also important to get a handle on the amount of usage expected throughout the year, particularly if seasonal temperatures fluctuate.

As you develop a good idea of water consumption in your system, you can start to explore which rate structure works best for your community. The community's philosophy on water consumption must also be taken into account. For some, a single rate independent of usage might best address the philosophy and the usage patterns. Because of water conservation efforts, some communities might choose to assess higher rates for increased usage. I can't imagine too many sticking with the less cost for more usage because this becomes a type of subsidy if source and treatment costs are high enough.

For many, it makes sense to meet variable costs with these rates and then add on a fixed fee that will pay the fixed costs. Doing anything other than this requires the rate to cover some of the fixed costs and puts the risk back on the utility because now the utility is dependent on water usage to be high enough to bring in extra money for fixed costs. It's also common to address low income populations or customers with minimum usage by offering a flat rate for the lowest tier of usage.

Although all that might sound straight forward enough, the real challenge occurs near the end of the analysis when you figure out what you really should be charging. Few utilities could probably implement the structure they really need immediately. One piece of advice is to set a target structure and then create a transition plan to get there. And whether you need to transition or not, it's best to create a long term ordinance establishing regular rate increases every year or every other year. This spreads the transition over a long time period and it allows for regular increases but offers elected officials the opportunity to amend an increase for specific years if possible.

Below is a guidance document from the EPA that can be used to assist in conducting a water rate study. And you can also find some good resources through AWWA publications.


Guide Small Systems Final Rate Setting Guide



Awesome Products/Demos from the ACE2010 Expo – Part 1

Sewer Backup Prevention DeviceToday a coworker and I had the chance to attend the ACE 2010 Expo put on by the American WaterWorks Association (AWWA). We learned a lot about traditional products and some new innovations. Fortunately I brought my Flip camera and thanks to some great vendors was able to get short videos of their products to share  with all of you! This first one is a demo of a sewer backflow prevention device. These products are sold by Mainline Backflow Products, an Edmonton-based company. 

According to the vendor, about 400,000 of these are in place throughout Canada. I asked him about debris hanging up in the flap preventing it from closing. He said if the device is properly installed with the recommended slope, they have not seen any issues with debris preventing closures.

Below is a demo shown to us by the vendor: