What is Inflow and Infiltration?
Inflow and infiltration or I & I are terms used to describe the ways that groundwater and storm water enter into dedicated wastewater or sanitary sewer systems. Dedicated wastewater or sanitary sewers are pipes located in the street or on easements that are designed strictly to transport wastewater from sanitary fixtures inside your house or place of business. Sanitary fixtures include toilets, sinks, bathtubs, showers and lavatories.
Inflow is storm water that enters into sanitary sewer systems at points of direct connection to the systems. Various sources contribute to the inflow, including footing/foundation drains, roof drains or leaders, downspouts, drains from window wells, outdoor basement stairwells, drains from driveways, groundwater/basement sump pumps, and even streams.
These sources are typically improperly or illegally connected to sanitary sewer systems, via either direct connections or discharge into sinks or tubs that are directly connected to the sewer system. An improper connection lets water from sources other than sanitary fixtures and drains to enter the sanitary sewer system. That water should be entering the storm water sewer system or allowed to soak into the ground without entering the sanitary sewer system.
Infiltration is groundwater that enters sanitary sewer systems through cracks and/or leaks in the sanitary sewer pipes. Cracks or leaks in sanitary sewer pipes or manholes may be caused by age related deterioration, loose joints, poor design, installation or maintenance errors, damage or root infiltration.
Groundwater can enter these cracks or leaks wherever sanitary sewer systems lie beneath water tables or the soil above the sewer systems becomes saturated. Often sewer pipes are installed beneath creeks or streams because they are the lowest point in the area and it is more expensive to install the pipe systems beneath a roadway.
These sewer pipes are especially susceptible to infiltration when they crack or break and have been known to drain entire streams into sanitary sewer systems. Average sewer pipes are designed to last about 20-50 years, depending on what type of material is used. Often sanitary sewer system pipes along with the lateral pipes attached to households and businesses have gone much longer without inspection or repair and are likely to be cracked or damaged.
Why is inflow and infiltration a problem?
Sanitary sewer systems are designed to carry wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, sinks, or showers in homes or businesses. Inflow and infiltration add clear water to sewer systems increasing the load on the systems. Clear water belongs in storm water sewers or on the surface of the ground, and not in the sanitary sewers. A storm water sewer is a pipe system designed to carry rainwater away. Storm water sewers are normally much larger than sanitary sewer systems because they are designed to carry much larger amounts of water. Drainage ditches also act the same way in many neighborhoods. When clear water enters sanitary sewer systems, it must be transported and treated like sanitary waste water.
During dry weather the impact of inflow and infiltration can vary from minimal impact to a significant portion of the sewer pipe flow. Wet weather magnifies existing inflow and infiltration sources. As a rain or snow melt event begins the inflow and infiltration sources start filling the sanitary sewer systems with clear water, eventually filling the sewer systems to capacity. Once the sanitary sewer systems have reached capacity or becomes overloaded, wastewater flows at much higher water level than normal and if sanitary fixtures or drains are below this overload level, water will flow backward through the sanitary sewer pipe, flooding basements or households and causing manholes to pop open releasing wastewater onto the street.