Wastewater

The Sewer Utility collects and treats wastewater (also known as sanitary sewer) from City of Medicine Hat customers.

The utility ensures all treated wastewater meets the rigid safety, environmental, monitoring, recording and reporting parameters of federal, provincial, wastewater industry and local standards. The Sewer Utility also plans and implements infrastructure expansions and upgrades to meet planning needs, as well as supports approved local development objectives.

Mandated by the Sewer Bylaw #1541, both the City of Medicine Hat  and sewer customers are expected to adhere to the regulations set forth in the bylaw. The utility is also regulated by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

General sanitary sewer information

Help Prevent Sewer Backups

If you are experiencing a sewer backup, it’s most likely due to a blockage in the sanitary sewer service line between the house and the City’s sewer main.

Sewage backup usually first arises within the sanitary sewer system. If it happens, discharge may appear around the cleanout and/or main drain in your basement. Various materials frequently flushed or poured down the drain can harm the pipes that connect to city sewers as well as the sewer system. Every property owner connected to the sewer system can be a potential contributor to sewer problems, and a potential victim of those same problems.

In order to prevent pipe and sewer blockages and to avoid costly clean-up bills, the only items that should be flushed down your toilet are human waste and toilet paper.

To control the degree or amount of backup:

  • Stop using your plumbing fixtures until you have the sewer line cleaned out.
  • We recommend that you call a local plumber / drain cleaner or rent a machine yourself to clean out your sewer line at your own expense.
  • You may also choose to contact Environmental Utilities to dispatch City field operators to clean out your sewer, however please note that fees may apply.

What is the most common cause of sewer blockages and what can I do to prevent them?

Most sewer blockages happen when materials that DO NOT disintegrate are flushed into the sewer system (by way of sink, tub/shower or toilet etc.). In addition these materials often coat the inside of the sewer lines over time, causing blockages that sewage cannot pass through.

“Flushable” wipes combined with Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) and at times roots in sewer pipes and mains cause blockages and damage to private plumbing and City infrastructure. 

These costly problems can be avoided if we all become more mindful of what we are flushing down the sewer and a good start would be to stop the flushing of wipes.

The "do not flush" list 

The following items should not be flushed down the sewer system:

  • Facial tissues (Kleenex)
  • Baby wipes
  • “Flushable” wipes
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand wipes
  • Toilet bowl scrub pads
  • Dusting pads
  • Napkins (paper or cloth)
  • Diapers
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls and cotton swabs
  • Sanitary napkins, tampons, and condoms
  • Dental floss – or any other string items
  • Egg shells, nutshells, coffee grounds (these are much better suited for your compost),
  • Fats Oils and Grease (FOG)
  • Hair and wigs
  • Clothing
  • Plastic of any kind
  • Cigarette butts
  • Medicines or pharmaceuticals, medical sharps (return these to your Pharmacy)
  • Adhesive bandages such as Band Aids or cloth bandages
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Cat litter or deceased pets
  • Paints, varnish, paint thinner, or automotive fluids
  • Poisons and hazardous waste
  • Glass
  • Cell phones
  • Jewelry
  • Garden wastes, wood, sawdust, or shavings
  • Food scraps and bones
  • Broken dishware
  • Toys and game pieces

This is not a complete list but provides examples and can be used as a quick reference when you are deciding whether to flush, toss, recycle or return an item. Download the Recycle Coach App to learn more about how to properly dispose of various materials.

"Flushable" wipes

“Flushable” Wipes may swirl down the toilet with ease; however they don't disintegrate and are creating serious problems as they try to work their way through the sewage system.

Some wipes may make it through the lift stations, eventually landing at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, most wipes and other materials are often the cause of sewer backups in City sewers, basements of homes and businesses.

In addition to causing backups, this also damages City equipment. Wastewater Treatment Plants are not designed to accept anything other than human waste and toilet paper. Wipes and other debris flushed down the sewer system become entangled in pumps and equipment within the Lift Stations and Wastewater Treatment Plant. These damaged pumps have to be replaced or repaired, which can increase maintenance costs for the Utility in turn costing rate payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, although packaging may say wipes are “flushable” - in reality they should not be flushed at all.

Most “flushable” wipes are designed with fibers that take a long time to break down in water. For sewer systems to operate efficiently, the break down process needs to begin immediately. Labeled as a cleaner alternative to toilet paper, the wipes have been estimated to cost Canadian tax payers millions of dollars each year by clogging sewers.

At this time there is no standardized testing for these wipes to make sure they will break down in the sewer system and will not become tangled in lift station pumps or cause blockages in the sewers. With there being no current standard, wipes can claim to be “flushable” when in fact they should not be flushed at all.

What can I do to prevent these problems?

These costly problems can be avoided if we all become more mindful of what we are flushing down the sewer and a good start would be to stop the flushing of wipes.

Fats, oils and grease (FOG)

FOG can be comprised of animal fats, vegetable fats, oils and grease used to cook and prepare food. When any type of FOG is washed down the drain, it acts like glue inside the sewer pipes and mains.

Over time, the buildup of FOG, combined with other debris like food and wipes can block the entire pipe, subsequently causing sewer backup in your home, neighbouring homes or businesses. The damage caused by FOG can be quite serious with the cleanup being costly to both residents and the City.

What can I do to prevent these problems?

  • Avoid pouring FOG down your drain, rather choose to dispose of FOG in the garbage.
  • Wipe pans and dishes using paper towel and pour FOG (i.e. turkey fat, bacon grease etc.) into a disposable can or jar until cool.
  • Dispose of cooled FOG and saturated paper towels in your household garbage.
  • Review the City's Source Control Program page for more information regarding the City's effort to reduce FOG in the sewer system.

Watch this YouTube video to learn how to safely dispose of FOG

Tree root blockages

Tree roots can enter at joints, breaks or leaks in the sewer service or main line and cause blockages. If you suspect tree roots are causing sewer backup problems, contact a local plumber / drain cleaner to cut out the tree roots. Alternatively you can call us to cut out the tree roots, but please note that fees may apply.

If root infiltration is identified, a plan to eliminate or control the root growth should be implemented. Note: The City is responsible for root infiltration on public property piping occurring from public property trees only. If the investigation indicates root infiltration on private property, the homeowner or tenant is responsible.

Sewer main backup
On rare occasions, a blockage can occur in the City’s sanitary sewer main. If the blockage is not detected in time, sewage from the sewer main can backup into homes through the cleanout. The rate at which the backup occurs can be slow or rapid but most always occurs without water usage. If you suspect a sewer main backup please call us at 403-529-8176 immediately.

For more information, please visit the FAQ page.

Sanitary sewer services

An adult over the age of 18 must be in attendance for the entirety of the service being completed for all sewer related services provided by Environmental Utilities field operators whereby house access is required.

Sewer backup / blockage removal

If your sanitary sewer service line from the house to the sanitary sewer main in the street is plugged or showing signs of backup, you have the option to contact a local plumber / drain cleaning service or Environmental Utilities.

Effective since April 1, 2020, Environmental Utilities now charges a fee to clear sewer blockages on private property. City field operators will clear the blockage during business hours Monday to Sunday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. For fee information, contact Environmental Utilities at 403.529.8176 during business hours.

If the problem is in the evening / overnight (from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.), you may choose to call a local plumber / drain cleaning service, or wait until business hours for Environmental Utilities field operators to attend. Note that, as above, fees may apply for City field operators to attend.

The service performed by Environmental Utilities is contingent on there being proper access to the sewer cleanout and plumbing installed in your home. If the field operators are unable to access the internal sewer cleanout, it will be recommended that you contact a local plumber / drain cleaner. If an external sewer cleanout is located at the property line, field operators will clean the City owned portion of the sewer service at no cost to the homeowner.

Sanitary sewer main flushing

The sanitary sewer collection system will be flushed in the event of a sewer main blockage or overflow. The City has a routine sewer main flushing program that is carried out year-round to minimize the chances of backup in the mains or overflow from a sanitary manhole.

CCTV inspection

CCTV (closed circuit television) Inspections are completed on sanitary sewer services and mains to assess the condition of the sanitary sewers. The CCTV inspections help determine whether repairs are required or if there is a problem within a sewer line that requires attention. Should you be experiencing frequent sewer backups and are unable to determine the cause, it may be recommended that you have a camera of your sewer service line completed. Results will be provided to the homeowner and follow-up by Environmental Utilities supervisory staff completed as necessary. Please note that CCTV Inspections are by appointment only and fees for a CCTV Inspection may apply.
Sewer line locates 

If you are planning to dig or excavate the ground in any way, it is your responsibility to submit a locate request before you dig.

Line locates

Sewer maintenance and monitoring programs

Sanitary sewer main flushing

We are currently flushing the sewer in: Zone B
It is anticipated that operations will next move into: Zone R

Please Note: In addition to the routine schedule, there may be additional flushing completed in some areas of the City requiring more frequent attention. Unless the flushing activities are expected to last more than one day, that specific zone will not be noted above for these locations.

Sewer Flushing Zone Map

The flushing program is an integral component to the sanitary sewer collection system as it helps clean and remove residual debris and build-up from within the mains. Flusher/Vacuum combo trucks are used to flush water through the sanitary sewer main at a high velocity to remove debris and build-up from the pipe walls.

Materials and substances such as FOG (fats, oils and grease) and wipes (even those labeled as "flushable") combined with root infiltration, rocks and dirt are common causes for the build-up within a sanitary sewer main. A routine flushing program minimizes the chances of the build-up in the mains from becoming a blockage, potentially causing sewer backup or overflow which pose significant health and environmental concerns.

The goal of any sanitary sewer flushing program is to minimize service calls and sewer backup, caused by main blockages. However, the program cannot be successful without the participation of our customers. Be mindful of what you are flushing into the sanitary sewer main and only flush what the sanitary sewer is intended to collect.

The sewer main flushing process can cause pressure fluctuations within the sewer service laterals leading into homes or businesses and can potentially suck out the standing water in the p-traps. P-traps that have dried out can become smelly, releasing a sewer odour into your home or business. Simply fill your p-traps with hot water to eliminate the smell.
Tree root removal

Part of the City’s routine maintenance program is the removal of tree roots in affected areas of the sanitary sewer mains. Tree roots, if left undisturbed in the sanitary sewer mains and services, will completely block the sewer causing sewer backup. Tree roots thrive in the warm, moist sanitary sewer mains that are full of nutrients which attract the tree roots. As tree roots expand, they can cause breaks and large cracks in the sanitary sewer lines which significantly decreases the integrity of the pipe.

The most common way to clear roots from a service line is through the use of root cutters and augers. The Sewer Utility is only responsible for city owned infrastructure, providing a courtesy service where applicable. However, root removal via herbicide application is the best option within the sanitary sewer mains being that they are so much larger than a service so a cutter or auger may take too much time.

If a section of a sanitary sewer main is found to be affected by tree roots, licensed operators may administer herbicide to clear the root infiltration. 

Source control program

The City of Medicine Hat's Source Control program was developed to help safeguard the City's sanitary sewer collection system and to protect the Wastewater Treatment Plant from incoming contamination. The sanitary sewer collection system plays a vital role in transporting wastes from residences and local businesses to the Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment.

Blockages in the collection system can result in backups into resident's homes, or sanitary sewer overflows which can have a traumatic effect on the environment and on public health. Contamination in the collection system can reach the Wastewater Treatment Plant, potentially causing a plant upset where the biological treatment capacity of the plant is compromised. This can result in untreated wastes being discharged into the South Saskatchewan River. Using a combination of industrial monitoring, site inspections, compliance audits, and educational resources the City's Source Control Officers meet with local commercial, industrial, and institutional users to ensure compliance with the City's Sewer Bylaw.

Industrial monitoring

The Source Control Officers use a combination of grab samplers and automated composite samplers to take samples of the effluent (sewage discharge) from the industrial sector. These samples are analyzed at a laboratory and the results are compared to the limits in Sewer Bylaw #1541. The Source Control Officers work with local businesses to meet the limits in the bylaw, and provide permits for generators that have a discharge greater than 100,000 cubic feet per month (2832 cubic meters per month). The Source Control Officers also take regular monitoring samples at strategic points in the collection system to monitor for any harmful or dangerous substances in the collection system.
Site inspections

A significant portion of the Source Control program is the on-going FOG (Fats, Oils, and Grease) campaign. FOG generated by restaurants, food service providers and residents is a major contributor to blockages in the sanitary sewer collection system. The best solution to this problem is to eliminate it at the source. Working with local food service establishments to reduce the amount of FOG that discharges into the sewer system keeps the sewers flowing properly, which means less backups into residences and businesses. A sewer backup into a restaurant can be very costly to clean up and will result in the Public Health authority shutting down the operation until the cleanup is complete. The lost revenue and negative public perception are even more costly than the cleanup, and it is clear that prevention of the backup in the first place is the best option. Source Control Officers will inspect local businesses to help identify Best Management Practices for reduction of FOG, and will inspect grease interceptors and sumps to ensure they are kept in peak operating efficiency.

Similarly, commercial businesses that have the potential to discharge oils, hydrocarbons, sand, grit etc. will also be the focus of routine site inspections. Interceptors are required at locations such as these to protect the sanitary sewer collection system from the discharge of harmful and hazardous substances. Volatile substances can have extremely harmful effects on the sewer system, the environment and pose a public safety concern.

Compliance audits
Similar to the Site Inspections, but focused on the industrial sector, the Source Control Officers will review a company's processes and audit their process against Sewer Bylaw #1541. Data from in-line analyzers or grab samples are reviewed, and any deficiencies are identified to the company. The Source Control Officers are a resource for the City of Medicine Hat's industrial sector in the areas of pre-treatment and sampling.