This summer, the City of Madison Engineering Division has a Communications Public Information Officer intern, Alli Kohlstadt, a civil engineering student at University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

alli vactor ride

For the next couple of months, Alli will share her perspective on the Engineering Division Blog, specifically about what she learns while working at her internship at the City of Madison Engineering Division. 

Follow along on the blog posts to learn what she learns, and you could learn something new, too! In this blog, learn the top three things Alli learned while going for a ride in one of Engineering’s Big Green Vactors, a key part of why our preventative maintenance program is so impactful, successful and beneficial to our community.

In my second week working in the Engineering Division, I tagged along with a Vactor crew, in charge of maintaining the sewer system for the City of Madison. Here are three main takeaways I learned during my ride:

  1. It’s not just draining gross things from the sewers. As the crew likes to describe it, a vactor is a glorified garden hose that can also vacuum. A vactor has a large hose with a knob at the end of it to spray water at a high pressure to clean debris from the stormwater and sewage systems. They have different knob attachments for different size pipes, and even have one that will clear roots from the pipes without damage. The vactor acts as a preventative measure so fewer backups occur, and fewer pipes need to be replaced.


2. Crews put a camera down the pipe to look for trees, cracks, holes, in the pipes. To fully view the condition of the pipes, the TV truck comes into play. With several different sized cameras, the correct size is chosen based on the size of the pipe. The camera is carefully lowered down into the pipe, while in the inside of the truck a certified operator looks at the pipes to correctly code. (If there’s a crack, roots or hole it is coded so the engineers know how to plan and further build the storm and sewage systems.)



3. The crew isn’t always sent out to fix the pipes. They are there to report the issue, and then later on will return to repair the pipe if it is determined that is what is needed. New technology development allows them to fix the pipe from the inside, using access from the manhole, rather than digging up the road. If damage is really significant over a large section, the road does have to be dug up.

(bonus fact)

*The crew also saves ducks from the stormwater system. Every now and again the crew receives a call to rescue baby ducks from the stormwater system. Some said these calls are their favorite because it is different from the usual, and it saves ducks.

You can learn more about the vactor preventative maintenance program here.

Thanks for following along on this journey!

Thanks again to Jason Kelley – CCTV Operator, Ken Anderson –Operator 1 on CCTV truck, Garrett Nelson– Tech 1 Vactor Operator, and Nate Pribbenow– Operator 1 on Vactor for taking time to teach me about the vactor and CCTV truck!

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Engineering and a link back to the original post.