Hand pressing toilet flush button

SA Water has announced that the rate of blockages due to ‘unflushables’ has dropped to a two-year low, following a campaign by the utility to stop people flushing objects that were clogging the state’s sewers, including cooking oils and fats, and wet wipes. 

The number of blockages caused by problematic objects flushed down the toilet or put down the sink decreased by 110 in October compared to the same month in 2021 – a 45 per cent drop – helping limit the risk of unsightly overflows inside people’s properties.

SA Water’s Senior Manager of Production and Treatment, Lisa Hannant, thanked South Australians for heeding the utility’s important message to change their flushing and rinsing habits.

“We know it’s the cumulative impact of our customers’ behaviour at the loo and at the sink, together with our operational initiatives such as the use of smart technology, that will keep our sewers healthy,” Ms Hannant said.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve experienced a decrease in the number of blockages caused by items such as wet wipes – the prime offender among the unflushables – and I’d like to say a warm ‘thank you’ to our customers who are embracing the role we need them to play.”

Ms Hannant said one of the ways to shift behaviour is by engaging with the community and providing practical tips, which is why SA Water has been making a concerted effort to spread the word lately.

“People may have seen more content across our social media and in the news from the end of July, which expanded on our ‘Three Ps’ messaging by directly calling out more things that shouldn’t be flushed or rinsed, including condoms, tampons, coffee grounds and cooking oil.

“Sharing gross photos of overflows, some of the bizarre objects we’ve found in the sewers, and informative, yet playful, animations formed part of how we embedded the important message within our community.”

Ms Hannant said that although the utility is encouraged by the positive shift in people’s behaviour, the level for blockages caused by unflushables is still above the pre-pandemic level, which was heightened by the scarcity of toilet paper during 2020.

“There’s more to do to help the community understand what they can flush and what should go in the bin, and over time, we’re hopeful we can curb this operational issue and ensure our sewerage system is able to continue protecting public health and the environment.”

SA Water spent more than $2 million during 2021-22 to redirect unflushables from pipes, pump stations and wastewater treatment plants to landfill.

After reaching a peak of 51.23 in June, the utility’s 12-month rolling average of statewide blockages per 100km of pipe dropped to 48.38 at the end of October – the lowest rate for the past two years.

Ms Hannant said the utility’s targeted sewer cleaning program was also likely behind the drop in blockages.

“We’ve stepped up our proactive maintenance to help reduce blockages and overflows in hotspot suburbs such as Athelstone, Blackwood and Rostrevor,” Ms Hannant said.

“Typically, these areas are in the foothills and experience more blockages due to the presence of tree roots, which are the leading cause of this type of incident.

“In addition to our cleaning program, we’ve also implemented an initiative to help locate the root cause of overflows by deploying in-pipe cameras, and carefully targeting repairs to reduce the risk of recurrence.

“About a quarter of blockages are caused by things that shouldn’t have been put into the sewers and this is where our smart network is helping identify potential blockages, enabling our crews to get out there and clear them before they can cause an overflow.”

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