PHOTO ESSAY: A Big Chunk of Concrete

I have a personal story to share. As it so happens, it concerns old sewer lines … and, perhaps, some future problems facing the Town of Pagosa Springs.

I live in a house downtown — within the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District — with my daughter Ursala, her husband Chris and their two daughters, Amelie and Simone. A couple of weeks ago, our sewer pipe backed up, and when the plumbers ran their video camera through the pipe, they identified lots of roots clogging our line.

A lot of roots.

As it happens, our sewer pipe was mostly old, and made out of clay — vitrified clay — of the type used in Pagosa back when most of the downtown homes got sewer connections.  (Which I believe was in the early 1960s? Up until then, downtown homes in Pagosa had outhouses.)


Clay pipes dating from 4000 BCE, excavated at the Temple of Bel at Nippur, Babylonia. Courtesy

In spite of its durability, however, clay sewer pipe is especially susceptible to invasion by tree roots, due to the numerous joints between the segments. A roto-rooter service can remove the roots, temporarily…

…but the fix is only that: temporary.

Turns out that tree roots had infested not only the clay pipe leading from our house to the property line — the Town-owned portion of the old clay sewer pipe was also thoroughly overgrown with roots. Our plumber showed the video evidence to PSSGID manager Gene Tautges, and got the Town’s approval to dig up the entire line, all the way to the sewer main.

Should have been a one-day job. Alas, it was not. (I am typing this at a friend’s house, where the sewer is fully functional.)

When the plumbers’ trench got close to the Town’s sewer main, out in the middle of the street, they came upon a patch of concrete, where the Town had made a previous sewer repair 20 years ago. Back then, the Town crew had chosen not to repair the hole with asphalt, but rather with concrete. And a curious piece of concrete it was.

Okay, so maybe 4 inch thickness of concrete? Or even 6 inches?

It took two backhoes, working in unison, to lift out the 4-foot-thick piece of concrete. In the process, the sewer main was damaged, and the job became bigger than a simple one-day project.

We will note that the sewer main, itself, appears to be clay.

Who, in their right mind, would pour four feet of concrete on top of a sewer connection that would — undoubtedly — someday need to be reopened? (As indeed it did.) In fact, I was living in this same house when the previous repair was made. As a result of shifting earth beneath the street, our clay house line had become dislodged from the Town’s main line. When the Town crew finished the repair, their was a large square of concrete where the hole had been.

The crew who dug up the street and made the repair no doubt felt that placing four feet of concrete over the joint would prevent the connection from failing in the future. Unfortunately, they didn’t think about the fact that a future crew would have to spend several hours trying to remove that concrete block.

Live and learn.


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.