On Sunday, flush without fear. We have you covered.

Sports fans watching the game on TV.

I hear there’s a really big football game coming up. Something called the Super Bowl. And the Vikings aren’t playing because they lost in the last seconds of a game.

Nothing new there, right? Or so I’m told. I rarely watch professional football, so I’m not a good source.

I can help you with another question, however: Is it OK to flush the toilet at halftime?

Before I give you the answer, let me point out that this blog is based on science, sort of. There are people who call themselves Sewer Sociologists, and they study our lifestyle habits based on the flow in our sewage pipes.

Just about everybody in the wastewater business has heard about the “halftime flush.” Supposedly that’s when sewage flows skyrocket because people are taking care of business, so to speak. In fact, it’s a persistent urban myth that wastewater plants have trouble handling the flow.

Sorry. It really is an urban myth. The fact we’re able to debunk the myth, however, tells us just how sophisticated our wastewater systems have become.

Here in the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s regional system, we monitor flows throughout our 75-mile network of sewers. (Our big sewer pipes collect wastewater from all our customers – we cover a region that serves 140,000 people in 17 communities and also four major industries.)

That’s not unusual. Wastewater flows are monitored throughout most our country’s sewer systems.

WLSSD bills all its customers separately, and flow is one factor. Your community then adds its expenses into the sewer bill you get, because each community also has its own network of sewage pipes to maintain.

The second reason we monitor flows is to ensure flows aren’t too much for our pipes to handle, which can handle about eight times the normal flow from our communities. If wastewater flows start going up too much, like they often do in rainstorms, we can divert some of the flow into holding tanks.

We watch our wastewater flows with the help of computers. Two people at WLSSD monitor the flows and plant performance every day, all day and all night. These folks can identify problems early and can control the system from computers or call out staff to respond to problems when needed.

Now that you know why we can tell how much all of you are flushing at halftime. I thought I’d check locally to see if we’re like the rest of the country by isolating the flows from the city of Duluth to test the hypothesis. Turns out in this case (as in many others) we are SPECIAL!

We could tell something was going on last year on Super Bowl Sunday. Wastewater flows peaked just before the pregame show started and then everything went quiet until about the time halftime started. The week before, flows stayed fairly high throughout Sunday afternoon.

Truth be told, however, the extra flow simply didn’t matter much –the increase was the equivalent of about 3 million gallons per day. During heavy rains, we can easily see a 20- to 40-million gallon per day increase.

So there. Our region may actually have a halftime flush. And WLSSD has the system and the full-time staff to handle it.

Enjoy the game this Sunday. Rest assured that as you’re taking care of your “business,” we have an eye on things so we, in turn, can also take care of your business.

by Craig Lincoln, environmental programs coordinator

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