New Jersey Sewer Authority Provides Helping Hand to Member Municipalities

PARSA provides support for member municipalities to make better I&I decisions.

New Jersey Sewer Authority Provides Helping Hand to Member Municipalities

Workers from the Plainfield Area (New Jersey) Regional Sewerage Authority use a jetter to clean a sewer line as part of an ongoing program for member communities. 

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At a time when state and local government services are fighting tooth and nail for whatever money they can get, the Plainfield Area (New Jersey) Regional Sewerage Authority stands out as an example of a service that gives its members more than it takes.

PARSA has a small staff of just eight very dedicated employees. Yet, it tries its best to say yes to everyone if the request is good for the overall system and the environment, and it is working.

Except for extremely intense rain events, PARSA has not had an overflow for years, which is a significant accomplishment since most of its system runs along a creek.

Turning the system around

PARSA was formed in 1996 as part of the Settlement Agreement of a lawsuit against the former public operating agency, the Plainfield Joint Meeting. Today, PARSA serves eight municipalities, all with equal voting rights, across three counties covering a population of 135,000.

Back in the mid-1990s, when PARSA took over the regional interceptor system’s operations, things were pretty dire. On top of operational, cash flow and administrative issues, the pipes’ average age was 65-plus years. A third of the pipes were approaching 100 years in use.

Thanks to PARSA’s dedication to its member communities and the environment, not only has it eliminated many of its problems, but it is now a well-respected, award-winning regional authority.

PARSA is responsible for the interceptor connecting eight municipalities to the area’s wastewater treatment plant. But it does so much more for its member towns. PARSA provides services such as flow monitoring, sewer cleaning, CCTV inspection and I&I remediation at little or no additional cost, and it is always finding new ways to pitch in.

PARSA’s cleaning program

Why do they do it? PARSA Executive Director Robert Snyder puts it quite simply, “We’re a family.”

For example, three years ago, PARSA started a shared-service cleaning program to clean 20% of the members’ collections systems annually over five years. Its members do pay extra for this service, and costs are calculated based on the overall footage that makes up the 20%. Snyder’s eight employees clean, on average, about 350,000 linear feet of pipe each year.

Snyder came up with the cleaning program while looking to bring extra value to member towns. “Our staff is getting older. We could hire some new staff, train them and bring them up to speed, but we would have to increase our operations budget. I hate to say this, but what’s the benefit to our members by us doing that? There’s not a tremendous amount of value to them. So, I tried to come up with a creative way that allowed me to hire some new staff while giving the towns something more in return for their money.”

Snyder says that currently, seven of the eight member towns take advantage of the cleaning service and the only reason the eighth doesn’t participate is that it has its own cleaning staff.

Once they get through year five of the cleaning program, Snyder says they will start phase two. He intends to scale back the cleaning (dropping to 10% annually), but they will be adding CCTV inspection (also 10% annually). Snyder says this change will help members identify trouble spots and strengthen the overall sewer system.

But that’s not the only benefit to Snyder’s creative hiring system. The majority of the PARSA staff are level three or level four licensed operators. One new staff member has obtained his level one license, and the other is prepared to sit for his license and would have it, had it not been for COVID-19 forcing him to wait. PARSA staff members serve as a licensed operator of record for member communities to meet DEP requirements.

Inspections and monitoring

PARSA also provides emergency CCTV inspections whenever possible at no charge for whoever needs it, member town or not.

“We jump into action and do what’s necessary to protect the environment, as clichéd as that sounds. We’re not so worried about getting paid to do it,” Snyder says.

Snyder says that when municipalities do flow monitoring, they can often only capture data for one month due to budgetary constraints. One of the member towns was interested in flow monitoring and received estimates for $30,000 to $40,000 for one month of monitoring.

“They would only be able to put the equipment in for a month because that’s all the funds they have. Unfortunately, if you install a flow meter in August, it’s going to show different results than if you monitored in September, October, April or May.”

So, PARSA stepped in and offered to help. PARSA installed flow-metering equipment (Hach and ISCO Laser) and let them in for about seven months. Using the Trimble Telog system, they were able to view the data as it came in from the meter every 15 minutes, and PARSA didn’t charge for the service. Snyder’s theory is that it’s more valuable to everyone involved to offer the service. The more data and information you have, the better the decisions everyone can make.

“I think that’s one of the key functions of a regional sewage authority or wastewater facility or whatever you want to call it — to bring all that to the table,” Snyder says.

PARSA takes a holistic approach to I&I, but some specific projects have included manhole grouting and wet weather inserts. PARSA also purchased a new CCTV truck by Envirosight two years ago that gives it the capability to do point repairs on the sewer lines.

Unfortunately, Snyder says they haven’t been able to take advantage of that new truck just yet. By the time they were trained on the truck’s basic functions and were ready to train on the point repair piece, COVID-19 hit. But once they get that training, it is a service they will provide at minimal cost to members. Snyder says they are just looking to cover materials.

Budgeting for repairs

PARSA has also done a few large pipe lining repair projects in-house and is preparing to repair a 400-foot section of pipe right next to a creek soon using either sliplining or CIPP.

Snyder says PARSA has done this type of work for its members throughout its existence, and he plans on continuing. But some work and some requests are more difficult than others. Often it comes down to the money — who is paying for it, and how do you pay for it.

PARSA is not in the business to make money, and Snyder uses the term “revenue neutral.” Each municipality is billed based on three parameters — flow, biological oxygen demand and total suspended solids. This formula determines the municipalities’ portion of PARSA’s annual budget.

“There’s a balance that you have to keep with that. There are some projects that we can do, and it’s not a big deal.”

But other projects are a different story. Snyder has the same problem that many municipalities and authorities face. Sewers are often out of sight and out of mind, leading to reactive responses to I&I. Both Snyder and his predecessor, Rob Villee, have been trying to change that way of thinking.

“We need to give (our members) the tools to make those decisions. It’s not anything you can just flip a switch and get them to do. It’s a process, and you have to first inform them of the problem, bring them up to speed, and explain why it’s a good thing to do this. In their defense, if you’re not given the information, then you have no direction.”

Snyder says they’ve been very fortunate in that all PARSA’s municipalities have embraced the proactive approach.

Snyder and all his PARSA employees take a lot of pride in what they do, and so they should. They provide all these services to their members because it’s the right thing to do. Even when they have to charge to cover costs, towns would never obtain similar services anywhere near the low fees PARSA charges.

How is all this possible on top of their day-to-day tasks during normal times, let alone during a pandemic? Snyder says they use technology as their ninth through 100th employee.

“It makes a big difference if a person can sit at their desk and look at 40 meters as opposed to having to run to 40 locations to check and make sure that the equipment is operating effectively,” Snyder says.

This year, PARSA will implement asset management software (Trimble Cityworks), which will tie all the pieces together. Their recordkeeping, TV truck data and files, flowmeter data, and alarms will all be going to a central hub that member towns will have access to. 

PARSA and its members will be able to view how many times they’ve been to a specific line segment and any changes that come up during inspections. Information that will help towns form their capital improvement programs to remove more I&I from their systems. 

Being able to access the data and track problem areas will help everyone make educated decisions. And hopefully, it will take some of the burden off PARSA’s staff.

“A lot of times, it is difficult with eight, but then, you know, we just kick it into the next gear.” 



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