City confronts slippery situation: grease-clogged pipes

May 17, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Council creates regulations to limit damage to sewer system

In a maneuver more common to cardiologists than City Council members, the city enacted a step May 2 to unclog the pipes looping beneath streets, like arteries inside the human body.

The council approved a measure to create regulations for grease and other oily discharges from businesses. Supporters said cutting out the fat could lead to reduced maintenance costs from clogged and damaged pipes in the long term.

“It definitely is going to benefit the city,” Councilwoman Eileen Barber said before the unanimous decision. “As we all know, a lot of these fats and greases that go into our sewer actually create some kind of bacteria that eat our pipes. So, it is definitely beneficial for all of us, as citizens, to begin to save that.”

Concealed beneath city streets, deep inside municipal pipes, grease congeals into blobs and causes blockages.

Then, bacteria feed on the goo and release a corrosive byproduct as the material is digested. The resulting repairs or replacement can carry a substantial price tag.

If the ooze is not discovered in the city pipes and instead reaches the King County-operated South Treatment Plant in Renton, crews must scrape out the gunk by hand.

In order to stop grease from entering the sewer system, the ordinance focuses on education for business owners and sets guidelines for installing equipment to catch grease.

The city uses specialized equipment to record video and photos inside municipal pipes in order to locate trouble spots.

City Environmental Science Associate Dana Zlateff said “the most problems or overflows or blockages are actually in our downtown and directly related to the foodservice establishments themselves.”

The ordinance requires restaurants to implement practices to reduce the amount of fats, oils and grease discharged into the sewer system. The steps can be as simple as wiping fatty residue from pots, pans and utensils; installing sink strainers; and posting signs to alert employees not to pour grease down the drain.

The measure also requires business owners to install a grease interceptor or trap if the kitchen is expanded or renovated in a $20,000-or-more project.

In order to tackle problem businesses, the ordinance calls for owners to install grease-control devices if the business has been known to cause slimy buildup in the sewer.

Zlateff said the legislation mirrors ordinances in other jurisdictions, including neighboring Bellevue and the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.

“This is another great example of the business community’s interests and environmental interests being aligned in legislation,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said.

Councilman Mark Mullet, Zeeks Pizza and Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop owner, said the ordinance offered some flexibility to business owners.

“We heard feedback from the chamber and the restaurant association that sometimes installing a new boiler could push you over that threshold, when you’re really not changing your quote-unquote grease output,” he said. “So, once again, the ordinance was adopted to reflect the feedback we received.”

Zlateff said the city created a brochure for foodservice establishments to outline management practices. The brochure also doubles as a flier for businesses to post in kitchens or near drains.

The city also sought input from the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and Issaquah Restaurant Coalition in order to create more flexible regulations.

“The final piece of the puzzle was focusing on a lot of education, of making people realize that how these foodservice establishments deal with their grease impacts our city’s infrastructure,” Mullet said. “The better we do of minimizing grease coming into our sewer system, the lower it is for everyone’s taxes going forward, because it minimizes the amount of major, structural improvements we have to do in the city.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “City confronts slippery situation: grease-clogged pipes”

  1. Glenn Martin on May 18th, 2011 6:19 am

    Restaurants must be responsible for their own grease waste,
    Grease Blockages clog the sanitary sewer system resulting in raw sewage spills.

    Half of all sanitary sewer overflows are caused by grease blockages.
    Grease Trap chemicals and bacterias do not work to manufacturers claims.
    The chemicals and bacterias liquify the grease in the grease trap. The grease is pushed into the sanitary sewer where it hardens and congeals on the pipes.

    A grease trap ordinance keeps all restaurants on the same playing field. The Grease trap ordinace must be enforced.

    Cleaning the grease from the sanitary sewers costs taxpayers millions annually.
    Raw sewage spills affect our health and clean water supply.

    Time to be proactive about this.

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