Tag Archives: 311

How Does CLTWater Respond To A Wastewater Overflow?

First, what is a wastewater overflow? A wastewater overflow, also referred to as an SSO (Sanitary Sewer Overflow), is a release of untreated or partially treated sewage from a municipal sanitary sewer, typically out of a manhole or a broken pipe.

Taken by Cam Coley, employee City of Charlotte, Charlotte Water

While wastewater overflows are nearly inevitable in a system as large as Charlotte’s, we do our best to keep these incidents to a minimum to protect human and environmental health.

How can I tell if there is a wastewater overflow in a creek?

You may notice a gray, milky color or odor. If you do suspect an overflow, call 311 right away and say or select wastewater emergency, and a crew will respond.

What should I do if I see a wastewater spill?

Call 311 or 704-336-7600 and say or select sewer emergency. We will respond 24 hours a day.

How can I help reduce overflows? 

  • Toss in the trash: paper towels, wipes, hair, cotton swabs, feminine products, dental floss, coffee grounds, and excess food. 
  • Toss in the toilet: only toilet paper. 
  • Drain in the sink: soap suds, small amounts of food from the plate, and liquids. 
  • Take to a full-service recycling center: used and expired oils and grease. 

What causes wastewater overflows?

  • Clogs from wipes, paper towels, leftover kitchen grease, oils, or anything other than toilet paper.
  • Pipe failure (tree falls and breaks pipe, stream/creek erosion causing the pipe to fall into the creek)
  • Tree roots attacking and clogging the pipe
  • Damage by nearby construction. (Reminder to always call 811 before you dig.)

How does CLTWater respond?

A rapid response crew will investigate the area and attempt to remove the clog. This work does not impact drinking water quality. Crews may run hydrants to flush the area, lightly apply lime to sanitize, and/or return to investigate other pipes. Residents and their pets are encouraged to avoid contact with the creek during an overflow response.

How does CLTWater respond to a large overflow?

There is a myriad of responses depending on the situation. For example – a tree falls into the creek, washing out the creek bank and undermining the wastewater pipe just behind the creek bank. Crews frequently inspect these areas, but erosion can occur quickly during heavy rain events. Crews will:

  • Create a temporary access road or path if necessary to respond.
  • Install a temporary wastewater pipe to bypass the broken pipe and stop the overflow. The pumps and temporary above-ground pipes are checked several times daily to prevent possible wastewater overflows.
  • Stabilize the creek bank.
  • Construct a barrier / temporary stream bank to protect workers.
  • Remove the broken pipe. 
  • Install the new pipe and test it.
  • Rebuild the stream bank with clean fill material (soil). 
  • Remove temporary pipes and pumps.
  • Remove large spoil piles of dirt.
  • Complete grading/drainage.
  • Plant trees/shrubs and seed/straw the area.
  • Restore the stream bank and revegetate.
  • If the greenway was closed during work, it would be restored and reopened. When greenways are affected, CLTWater works with Mecklenburg County on restoration.

How does CLTWater handle tropical storms or heavy rains and prevent spills?

The underground sanitary sewer pipe network is not designed to handle rain, yet the runoff and flooding from large rains inevitably infiltrate the wastewater pipe network. Overflow basins at the five largest wastewater treatment plants capture and later treat more than 160 million gallons of rainwater mixed with wastewater. These equalization basins (EQ basins) prevent wastewater from overflowing out of manholes in our community.

CLTWater has also added several large wastewater pipes to help reduce the impact of heavy rains. Crews work to prevent rainwater from getting into the sanitary sewer system and are out investigating our system soon after a storm ends.

Additional Resources:

Wastewater treatment plant process

Why does wastewater cost more than water on my bill?

How does CLTWater respond to a wastewater overflow?

What does a growing city mean to wastewater treatment plants?

Is the odor from a wastewater plant or sewer manhole?

Who You Gonna Call? It’s 311.

If you haven’t already heard, when you have a problem or question about Charlotte or Mecklenburg services, it’s best to call 311. CharMeck 311 is the region’s customer service line to have your city service questions answered and assessed. 311 was introduced to the area almost 20 years ago in 2005 as a consolidation of services. Before, residents were directed to contact services and utilities separately to have issues resolved. Since then, 311 has received tens of millions of calls that range from tax questions to water issues, animal control, and more. They even get out into the community for in person events to answer your questions! They have a standing engagement at your local libraries if you would like to speak to them in person.

311 On The Go at a local event recently

You may wonder, how does an agent get information for a caller at the drop of a hat? Surely they don’t just know all the information off the top of their heads? Agents are trained to use an application the city calls Emerald. It is essentially an internal search engine with which agents are trained to look up keywords to find solutions to questions quickly. Emerald is kept up to date with current city projects and programs so the information you get is current and reliable.

Customer service representatives are trained to handle different types of requests, with the most senior representatives trained to handle any type of call that comes in. The agents are masters of multitasking by providing service to callers via phone or online and inputting information and requests through a myriad of forms. In this role, many agents become extremely well versed in a variety of city subject matters and some even move to different departments in the city as incredible assets to their new teams with their wealth of city knowledge.

To maintain consistent quality over time with new agents being hired, 311 commits exceptional effort to training and quality control. Regina Peralta, a Quality Assurance Analyst at 311, offered the insight that 311 is unique as a call center as it is a public service rather than a traditional private company helpline. Agents receive calls from a wide audience of people that have a large variety of needs, and it is a tough job to be sure everyone is served with the same care and quality.

Zekia Young, Senior Customer Service Representative

At 311, the agents live and thrive in the same communities they serve. Pictured above is Zekia Young. She’s been with 311 for over 18 years since 311 opened in 2005. I had the pleasure of sitting with her for an afternoon as she took calls and she handled each one with poise and professionalism. I asked her what she hopes for the public to know, and she said that she hopes that people understand that the team at 311 works hard every day to accurately satisfy the needs of the community.

To contact 311, you have a few options!

You may call the service center and speak to someone like Zekia from 7am-7pm Monday through Friday. You may also utilize an online chat feature to speak to a real human during those hours (trust me, I witnessed it myself).

Otherwise, you may submit service requests online or via the CLT+ app. For more information, visit the 311 contact page.

A Day in the Life: CharMeck 311 Call Center

Summer intern, Jake Dube’s adventure continues! Last week he was with CharMeck 311, sitting in with customer service representatives (CSR). Employees of 311 may not be Charlotte Water employees, but they do work for the City. In fact, of all phone calls at 311, 45% of them are Charlotte Water related. Come and join Jake on his day in the life of a 311 CSR.

I drive north and I pull into the large parking lot of 311. I find the lobby and wait for Dee Crayton, the program manager.

She tells me that 311 handles over a million calls every year. 450,000 of those are Charlotte Water related. These calls can consist of high water bills, reporting a leak, and everything else in between.

Dee explains the rigorous training CSR’s undergo before answering calls. First, the 12-14 week training period where you learn the call system and applications (Since they handle calls for both City and County, there are TONS of applications). To start, you learn two, then as time goes on, you take training courses for more applications and eventually become a “generalist” CSR.

After training, they are still not ready for the floor. They work in the “nesting pod”. This is where the small group starts answering calls in a controlled environment with close supervision. This period goes for 60 days. Once complete, they are ready for the floor.

After the tour, we take a seat in Dee’s office. She settles in and gives her email a quick glance. She turns away from her screen and gives me the rundown of my day. I get my own headset and go out onto the floor and sit down with CSR, LeNette Harrison.

LeNette answers utilities and Tax calls. The majority of her calls are about Charlotte Water. LeNette was kind and informative as I sat with her. I had so many questions but it was hard to squeeze any in because she was constantly answering calls. Since I can’t ask questions, I listen.

I am amazed by her multitasking. After each call ends, the CSR must log it. This log contains the subject and end result of the call. Every time LeNette ends a call she would immediately be connected to the next call. While answering that call, she was finishing the log for the previous one at the same time. It was impressive.

Next, I moved to generalist CSR: Julian Campbell. Julian has been with 311 for five years. Just looking at his desktop monitors gave me anxiety. He has so many different applications open at once so he can find the information needed no matter the call.

Julian handled calls ranging from Property disputes, bulky item pickups, and even high water bills. Remember my article on Bobby Sloan? When he investigates a high water bill, this is where it can start.

Julian’s knowledge was immense. Try and find someone who has more knowledge about Charlotte Mecklenburg overall than a CSR generalist. Can’t? I’m not surprised. That’s because they know all the services the city and county provide.

Days get busy at 311. At this point, there were between 20-40 callers on hold. CSR’s don’t ever rush a caller off the line, but they don’t like callers to sit on hold for too long.

Julian answered calls all the way to lunch. Some were easy and quick, and others were complicated. No matter what, Julian was thanked for his ability to help. Once he finished his last call, he switched his status to lunch break and went to eat.

I sit with my last CSR, Mozelle Bryant. Mozelle only chews Extra gum (Spearmint of course) and has since grade school. She’s been with 311 for over 10 years and is a generalist, like Julian. She offered me a stick of gum, then got to work.

Luckily while sitting with her, calls were not backed up like earlier. I take this time to ask questions about being a CSR. Mozelle says with a laugh that there is never a dull moment during her day. Things can pick up in the office and you won’t be able to put the headset down till quitting time. Especially as a generalist, you can go from answering questions about a water bill to then contacting animal control about a stray dog. Never a dull moment she says again as a call connects.

Before I know it, I look at the clock and realize it’s the end of my day. I thanked everyone who let me join them as I leave. I popped into Dee’s office to write a thank you note, then grab my bag and head home.

I gained so much respect for the job. All CSR’s are very knowledgeable and handle problems all day to find the help callers need.

The biggest takeaway that I had from this day was that all the employees; from the supervisors to CSR’s care. They are a resource to help the citizens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and want there to be resolution to any callers issue. They are good at what they do, plain and simple.

It was a pleasure to sit in and watch them work. I learned so much about Charlotte Water and even more about the services the City provides.

A big Thank you again to Dee Crayton and everyone that I sat with! I had a blast.

Make sure you stay connected and follow Charlotte Water on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube to stay up to date on all the great work Charlotte Water is doing! Keep on the lookout for my next installment of ‘A Day in the Life’!