Sewer System Evaluation Survey

Athens-Clarke County is inspecting, repairing, and, where necessary, upgrading every foot of its 600 mile sanitary sewer system. Aging pipes, manholes, and improper connections to the sewer offer an easy route for storm water or other non-wastewater discharges to enter the sanitary sewer collection system. Non-wastewater flows entering the sanitary sewer collection system use up valuable capacity (which could potentially cause raw sewage spills) an increase sewage disposal costs.

ACC has implemented a Sewer System Evaluation Survey (SSES), a comprehensive program to evaluate, maintain, and repair the sewage system. Several different operations are used to evaluate the system, which include; inspection of pipe using video equipment; manhole inspections; cleaning of the pipes; and smoke testing.

Smoke testing is commonly used in the utility industry to determine if there are leaks and/or cracks in underground wastewater lines. We conduct smoke testing in order to provide you with safe, efficient and environmentally sound wastewater services. This method has been used extensively all over the country for many years to locate defects in sewer systems and is recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Before smoke testing field crews gather preliminary data and notifying residents and businesses in the area prior to performing the actual smoke testing. An additional notice is placed at residences and businesses within 24 to 48 hours of the actual smoke test.


During this phase of the project, a private contractor employed by ACC Public Utilities will be conducting the smoke testing to locate breaks, defects and illegal connections in the sanitary sewer system. This project will require the opening of manholes, which are located in the streets and on utility easements. Once opened, a blower is placed on top of the open manhole which forces a non-toxic smoke into the system. As the smoke is forced through the sewer lines it will be forced from any openings or defects in the system. The white or gray smoke exiting the system is easily observable by the field crews performing the test, who will log each occurrence. The presence of smoke does not necessarily mean a problem exists. Each of these occurrences will be mapped and analyzed for possible corrective action.


  • At no time will field crews have to enter your residence. However, should a smoke source be visible on your property, the field crews will likely need to enter the property to investigate and log the source.
  • The smoke is NON TOXIC, LEAVES NO RESIDUE, AND CREATES NO FIRE HAZARD. The smoke, which is 50% atmospheric moisture, has a slight odor similar to burning paper and may cause minor throat irritation if inhaled. However, persons with respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema should be careful when exposed to smoke of any kind.
  • The smoke will likely not enter your home or business unless defective plumbing exists or drain traps are dry. Please pour approximately 1 gallon of water down any unused drains in your residence. This will help to prevent smoke from entering your house via seldom used drains. If smoke should enter your house, please notify the smoke testing crews that will be working in the immediate vicinity. Please be advised that if smoke enters your house during this test, it is possible that sewer gases are entering as well. It would be advisable to call a licensed plumber to repair any defective plumbing detected during this project.
  • If you are outside and see smoke coming from a vent stack on a house, don’t worry. The house is not on fire. This is normal. However, smoke coming from holes in the ground is not normal and may indicate a possible defect. The private contractor employed by ACC Public Utilities will photograph and log all defects like this. We will also contact property owners if a defect is found on private property.
  • Your presence is not required during the tests, and all public safety authorities have been notified of this event. We would appreciate it if you would mention this notice to your neighbors in case they have not received a notice.
  • If you or anyone you know lives in the test area and are concerned about the possibility of smoke entering your property, or should you have any questions concerning this study, please contact the Water and Sewer Division of the Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department at 706-613-3495
CES and southeast pipe logos
Athens-Clarke County retained the services of Southeast Pipe Survey and Compliance Envirosystems to conduct field activities from July through September 2016. This study will involve the opening and entering of manholes in the streets and easements. Southeast Pipe Survey and Compliance Envirosystems personnel are uniformed and carry identification.

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