Aging sewer pipe under Denver’s south suburbs fraught with fetid, fiery problems

John Aguilar, The Denver Post on February 21, 2017

LITTLETON — A methane-fueled fireball hurls manhole covers hundreds of feet, like giant circular saw blades slicing the air. A pipe more than 60 years old collapses 50 feet underground, causing millions of gallons of raw sewage to back up until the noxious stew flows into the South Platte River.

It’s a disaster that hasn’t come to pass yet, but sanitation officials in the south suburbs say the doomsday scenario is “not beyond the realm of possibility.”

“This is something that has to be dealt with really quickly,” said Platte Canyon Water & Sanitation District manager Patrick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald spoke to a room of concerned residents this week, trying to raise awareness about the condition of a sewer main that lies beneath an abandoned dump at the southeast corner of West Oxford Avenue and South Clay Street, where high concentrations of explosive methane generated by decomposing material can infiltrate the pipe. Installed in the mid-1950s, the 24-inch diameter concrete pipe carries nearly 900,000 gallons of sewage each day to the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant from 2,200 customers living in Denver, Sheridan, Englewood and Littleton.

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