Vail Valley sewer systems seeing more unflushable items |

Vail Valley sewer systems seeing more unflushable items

Toilet paper is the only thing you should ever flush

Don’t flush
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Baby wipes
  • Face-cleaning wipes
  • Anything that isn’t toilet paper

If you’re doing a lot more cleaning and disinfecting at home due to the COVID-19 virus, you’re probably going through bleach wipes at a pretty good clip. Stop flushing them.

The people who run local wastewater systems have seen a big jump in the amount of non-flushable material coming into treatment plants. That can be dangerous in a few ways.

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District provides water and wastewater services to users between Vail and Edwards, and wastewater services to Minturn.

Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the district, said employees there have seen a four-fold increase in the number of wipes coming through the wastewater plants. Johnson said she’s been told Eagle and Gypsum have also seen spikes in the amount of non-flushable waste coming into those systems.

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While a wipe may bill itself as “flushable,” that’s not really the case, Johnson said. Only actual toilet paper breaks down sufficiently in water to run through wastewater treatment plants.

In fact, while a lot of things will flush, or go down a drain, most of it should just go into the trash.

“It’s all going to end up in the landfill,” Johnson said. Throwing something into the trash is just a more direct route.

Wastewater treatment plants have filters called “bar screens” to catch most of the stuff that shouldn’t go into the treatment plant. Those screens have to be cleaned manually.

Sewage lift stations also have to be cleaned manually. While most sewer systems operate via gravity — stuff really does roll downhill — there are places where gravity needs a boost. Those lift stations are essentially holding tanks that use pumps to get wastewater back in gravity’s good graces, and have to be cleaned out if there’s too much unflushable material.

Besides wipes of virtually every variety, Johnson said people frequently flush dental floss. That can be even more difficult to pluck out of a screen.

Clogging sewer pipes is always a health hazard, even more so when the world is battling a potentially deadly virus.

In the days of social distancing, it can be hard to get a team into a tight space that needs cleaning or repair.

That’s a hazard, Johnson said.

“It’s a much more challenging environment,” Johnson said. “When you respond to something that’s broken, how do you stay 6 feet away from each other.

It’s also a hazard if a sewer pipe clogs and then leaks. A clogged pipe in a home can be both a health hazard and a significant expense to a homeowner or tenant.

A leaking sewer pipe has the potential to create a neighborhood health hazard whenever it happens, Johnson said. That leak is even more hazardous today.

“Sewage backups are not what we need (these days),” Johnson said. “So please put wipes, and all the things that need to go in your trash, in your trash.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

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