Short on toilet paper? Or trying to conserve the last roll you bought during the COVID-19 panic-inspired run on sanitary products?

Detroit Lakes Public Utilities staff would like to remind you that the use of nonflushable TP alternatives such as baby wipes, napkins and paper towels, even temporarily, will create long-term problems in local water and wastewater systems.

"You should not be flushing anything other than toilet paper," Public Utilities General Manager Vernell Roberts said Friday, March 20.

Even the so-called "flushable" sanitary wipes really aren't, Roberts added, because they are not 100% biodegradable, and can create clogs in the system which may have unpleasant consequences.

"Flushable wipes, regular paper towels and cloth towels just don’t degrade in the waste stream and when they start getting into our (wastewater) collection system, they can really wreak havoc," he said, which could even affect the community's brand-new, $34 million wastewater treatment plant.

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Hold on, back up

But what local homeowners and renters might especially want to consider when using alternative forms of personal hygiene maintenance, Roberts added, is that these materials can cause clogs and breaks in their service laterals that lead to unsanitary — and highly unpleasant — sewer system backups and leaks into their personal living space.

"The last thing people want to do is have a cloth product hung up on something (in the service lateral)," he said. "The grease will build up really fast on that stoppage in the service line and then it’s ugly, really ugly."

This applies not only to toilets, Roberts said, but to sinks, showers and bathtubs as well. "It all goes down the same pipe when it leaves the house," he added.

Any clogs or backups that occur in the homeowner's sewer service lateral are also 100% their responsibility, Roberts said.

More hand washing, but water usage drops

As for any increases in individual utility bills that might be caused by increased water usage — from staying home more, and also washing hands more frequently — Roberts said he "couldn't even begin to get a good estimate on that," because household sizes and individual water consumption vary so much.

"People need to be aware, with their kids at home all day, it's probably going to take a little more (water usage) than it used to," he said, adding that both individuals and families need to pay more attention to their water usage habits.

"If they’re using more water, they’ll get a higher bill," Roberts said. "It’s all based on consumption, on use."

One thing that is highly unlikely to happen, however, is a local water shortage; Roberts said that the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and other public gathering places has caused overall water usage to drop significantly in the past week or so, from between 1.1-1.2 million gallons a day to right around 1 million.

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