Some people call them sewer line jetters or pipe jetters, but Whitfield County Public Works Director DeWayne Hunt just prefers the “Master Blaster.”
Who can blame him?
The county’s newest piece of equipment is going to save taxpayers lots of money by drastically reducing the amount of time required to clean out the clogged-up pipes that run underneath local driveways and roads, Hunt says.
Known officially as the 7030-SC HydroJetter, the O’Brien Manufacturing machine is simple in design but high in productivity, pumping 700 gallons of high-pressure water through a hose capped with one of three different kinds of nozzles that make quick work of cleaning out pipes.
Hunt was on hand recently to watch one of his crews use the machine on Harlan Drive, where a 24-foot-long driveway pipe was severely clogged with dirt, rocks and other debris.
“We have a tremendous number of pipes that were installed 30 to 40 years ago,” Hunt said. “A little silt every year adds up, and over time they become clogged. See how flat this ditch is? The water in the ditch never really runs fast enough to flush out the pipe with its own velocity, so the silt and debris slowly build up over time.”
Just 15 minutes later, though, thanks to the HydroJetter, water was flowing freely through the pipe.
“That blows my mind!” county worker Roger Lackey said after watching John Gowin and Adam Long use the machine. “That used to be a half of a day job!” Gowin is the crew leader for the Westside ditch and tile crew.
Previously, the county would have used a water truck to clean out pipes like this one.
Lackey has 15 to 18 years of experience doing the job the old way and says he remembers “one time we worked for a day-and-a-half on one pipe that runs under Houston Valley Road.”
While the water truck has a “high-pressure hose,” Hunt says “you would use 1,500 to 6,000 gallons of water. Eventually you could get it cleaned out, but you really didn’t have the pressure or correct nozzles to do the job.” Typically the HydroJetter can open a single pipe with 300-750 gallons of water.
When the old way didn’t work, that meant digging up the pipe, shaking it to try and loosen the debris inside, or installing a brand new pipe (which would cost approximately $500 or more).
The new machine, which was approved for purchase by county commissioners earlier this summer, shoots water out at about 2,000 PSI (pounds per square inch), but Hunt says the special nozzles that attach to the end of the hose are the real secret behind its effectiveness.
“These are specially designed nozzles with ceramic inserts because there’s so much pressure,” Hunt said. “Plain metal nozzles themselves will wear out due to the water pressure.”
He said the first nozzle sent through the pipe acts like a chisel that works its way through solid mud and creates a hole to get the hose through to the other side.
“Then we’ve got a second nozzle with a round head that increases the size of the opening and loosens up the debris all around the pipe,” he said.
A third nozzle is shaped similar to a sled and distributes all the water pressure toward the bottom of the pipe behind the nozzle. “What that nozzle does,” Hunt says, “is it really flushes the debris that’s on the bottom toward the outlet end of the pipe.”
The county is already seeing good results in just the first couple of months of using the HydroJetter.
“We have found we can do up to eight pipes a day,” Hunt said. “Typically we could do two or three pipes with our water truck and would use four to five times as much water. Efficiency-wise, there is no comparison to our old method!”
The more pipes cleaned each day, the quicker local residents will see their pipes returned to normal.
And just how many pipes are there in Whitfield County?
“I have no clue,” Hunt admits. “I am sure that we are in the thousands! We have 46 pipes on Mill Creek Road alone, and that’s just cross drains, not counting driveways. So if those average 50 feet across, that’s almost a half-mile of cross drains on one road. So we’ve got miles of pipes in Whitfield County to maintain.”
Of course, such a high-pressure machine carries inherent dangers.
“It’s got a lot of safety features on it, as far as shutting the pump off,” Hunt said. “If that nozzle gets away from you with 2,000 PSI, just the nozzle slinging around would kill you, or the high pressure water stream could cut your arm off.”
Intensive training from the supplier demonstrated to the crews how to use the machine properly.
“Another safety feature is the remote control,” Hunt said, pointing out that it is useful when pipe openings are 20 to 30 feet off the pavement. The HydroJetter can reach far-away locations with its 400-foot-long hose.
Hunt says he has known about such machines for years, noting that Dalton Utilities uses a similar setup to clean out clogged sewer lines (with a vacuum that removes the sewage into a tank for proper disposal, approximately a $250,000 unit).
The county spent $51,154.56 for the HydroJetter, but Hunt says it will pay for itself in much-improved efficiency over the long haul.
“It’s just two water tanks, a motor and a pump,” Hunt said, “so we think it should last 10-plus years with proper care and maintenance. Overall, there’s not much that can go wrong with it. If we wear the hose out, we can replace it. There’s not a lot of moving parts on it, it’s just blasting water.”
And therefore, definitely worthy of the title of “Master Blaster” in Hunt’s eyes.
“If we can clear out more pipes in less time, get the stormwater flowing as it should,” he said, “I really believe that we have improved our efficiency at a task that we will repeat hundreds of times a year.”