Light at the End of the Tunnel!

City of SeaTac uses Rapidview inspection equipment and ITpipes for critical decision making.

SeaTac uses ITpipes inspection management software, a GIS database and asset management programs, to keep tabs on its stormwater system.

When someone poured gasoline down a drainpipe and set it on fire, SeaTac emergency responders needed to find answers fast. SeaTac, WA, stormwater manager Jon Kulju was willing and equipped to assist them. “They couldn’t see the fire because it was below ground. They called us, because they needed repiping specialists. They asked us to come out and use our camera system give them an idea of what was going on underground,” he says. “It turns out the polyethylene pipe was burning uncontrollably, and the backfill around the pipe was falling in on it. It was interesting to hear the firefighters strategize when they could see, versus when they couldn’t see. Their approach was totally different when it came to, ‘Now we know what’s going on; let’s do it this way.'” When not called upon to battle underground infernos, SeaTac’s RapidView camera has proved its worth in such everyday storm drain maintenance tasks as tracking down lost soccer balls to relieve clogged pipelines and keeping tabs on where trash might be accumulating in the system. Putting things like fuel down a drainpipe is extremely dangerous, not to mention, bad for your drains. Luckily, plumbing companies like are able to clean clogged drains, if something does get stuck in them. That said, drains should be left alone and you certainly shouldn’t be putting any chemicals down them. The drain camera plays a key role in the city’s five-year program to repair and upgrade stormwater infrastructure, giving the department the ability to remotely survey the condition of storm drain pipe and evaluate the need for repair. Other industries may visit this page for infrastructure options, but for others, the choice has already been made.

Stormwater is SeaTac’s only municipally operated utility. As Kulju explains, “Stormwater is one of those utilities where you’re not producing something to create a product; you’re moving rain from one place to another. That’s the reason cities take over the MS4 through the NPDES permit. Each jurisdiction is responsible for its own stormwater.” He adds, “We manage stormwater infrastructure through inspection, through construction projects, through repairs and replacement. We are working all the time to do improvements to how stormwater is conveyed and infiltrated with low impact strategies to improve water quality.”

Most of this pipeline work can now be done through less invasive methods that are safer for the construction workers and the community. One of these methods is pipe freezing, which uses liquid nitrogen to create a plug that can withstand a lot of pressure so that valves and pipelines can be replaced without the need to waste materials and deal with any hazardous waste.

SeaTac uses ITpipes inspection management software, a GIS database and asset management programs, to keep tabs on its stormwater system. With asset numbers assigned to each section of pipe, tables to store observations, and the RapidView IBAK camera to provide imaging, says Kulju, managers are able to inspect the pipe and visualize comparisons side by side to guide their decision making. In deciding on a camera system, Kulju wanted a technology that was robust, with a good service record, and one that could be repaired and maintained in-house. Based on conversations with other jurisdictions, “The issue came down to ‘How often is it in the shop? How often is it broken down?'” According to Kulju, the RapidView IBAK system consistently received the best reviews. Additionally, with the comprehensive instructions provided by the manufacturer in both manuals and on video, many repairs can be made in the field, reducing disruptions during operations. Attached by a cable reel and controlled by two joysticks-one for the tractor and the other for the camera head-the RapidView camera has a radio transmitter that allows the operator to track its position underground. The system makes it possible to precisely locate obstructions and hazards such as utility crossings. “We paint a spot and say ‘Here’s where we’re crossing a utility.’ We find two or three of those every year,” he says. “We don’t want to send our root cutter down and find out we’ve just cut a gas line.”

To read more of StormWater Magazine’s “The Underground Scene” Trenchless pipe rehab and repair, click here.