Sewer Bypass Projects Surge as Infrastructure Ages

Temporary bypass systems allow for necessary maintenance and repair. 

Aging infrastructure and a growing population are placing a significant strain on sewer and public water systems in the United States. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 240,000 water main breaks occur each year, and 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost every day due to infrastructure problems. Over the next 20 years, 56 million new users will be connected to centralized water treatment systems. 

When sewer and water systems break down or when they’re scheduled for upgrades or maintenance, a temporary bypass can take over the load for as long as necessary. 

“If a sewer line is bad or collapsed, we bring out the equipment to divert the flow — pumps, pipes and any necessary fittings and connections to make it happen,” said Chris Gilstrap, regional product manager for the United Rentals Fluid Solutions group.  

Demand for bypass systems is high. In the Houston area alone, United Rentals is currently involved on 14 such projects. “About half of the demand is for emergencies, and the other half is for planned maintenance,” said Gilstrap. He noted that pipe breakages are common in older cities, and upgrade projects are common in both cities and burgeoning suburbs.   

The demand will only increase if the funding for needed infrastructure repairs is secured. ASCE estimates that the United States needs to make a $150 billion investment in water and wastewater facilities before 20254.  

In designing such systems, “there are three terms we live by: flow, lift and distance,” Gilstrap explained. Flow addresses the amount of fluid a system needs to move, usually defined in gallons per minute or gallons per day. Lift is how high the fluid must be pulled out of a system. Distance is how far the fluid has to travel.

“We did a filtration project inside of a plant that was taking down their sand filter to maintain it and do some new construction. Using temporary sand filters, pumps and pipe, we helped maintain the flow in the plant and filtered the water before it went out to the outfall channel, which was a bayou.”

Chris Gilstrap, Regional Product Manager for the United Rentals Fluid Solutions Group

Gilstrap has worked on bypasses as short as 100 feet and as long as 2 miles. The long-distance project was in Houston, where a contractor was rehabilitating a sanitary sewer line 2 two miles from the treatment facility. “The contractor wanted us to set up a complete bypass instead of doing it in smaller portions over time so that they could complete their work more efficiently,” Gilstrap explained. 

For another project, United Rentals set up a bypass system to assist a plant operator that wanted to demolish an old treatment pump station and rebuild it. “That was challenging because it was right alongside one of the major drainage bayou systems in the area. Space was very constrained, and we didn't have a lot of room to work," said Gilstrap. "You can't have spills that go into the bayou.” 

Another project took place inside a sewer plant. “We did a filtration project inside of a plant that was taking down their sand filter to maintain it and do some new construction,” said Gilstrap. “Using temporary sand filters, pumps and pipe, we helped maintain the flow in the plant and filtered the water before it went out to the outfall channel, which was a bayou.” 

Temporary bypass technology has come a long way, particularly in terms of automation. One two-year pump station rehab project Gilstrap worked on involved pumping 30 million gallons of fluid a day and relied heavily on pump automation to control fluid levels. Automation not only makes operations more efficient, but it also helps reduce fuel consumption. Telemetry options allow remote monitoring of pump activity and mobile alarm agents that alert operators to any problems.   

Functioning sewage and water systems are essential to public health and life as we know it. As these systems in the United States age and the population that relies on them expands, temporary bypass installations that enable fast, cost-efficient upgrades and repairs become even more critical. 

To contact United Rentals for your bypass needs, go to 


Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years. 

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