Sewage Lift Stations: Reducing Maintenance Costs with Level Transmitters

Sewage Lift Stations: Reducing Maintenance Costs with Level Transmitters


There are more than 2 million sewage Lift or Pump stations in the US. All work on the same principle and with the same objective of moving sewage from one level to a higher elevation. Their installation costs range from $150,000 (20 gallons per minute) to $1.5M (100,000 gallons per minute) generally based on capacity and complexity. Of course the pump technology has come a long way in recent years, but the purpose of this article is to focus on a small component which has also received significant development in the past few years and is essential to the pump control and reliability of the station. This is the level sensor. A typical schematic for a sewage lift station featuring the level sensor (pressure transmitter / level transmitter) and its associated hardware is shown in the figure 1 below.

Figure 1:  Typical schematic for a sewage lift station

The level sensor

The purpose of the level sensor is to provide an electrical feedback to the pump as to when to switch on and off. Traditionally, floats have been used which simply provide an on and off signal to the pump at the high and low levels. Bubbler systems have also been utilized although they create increased maintenance challenges with the requirement of a continual gas flow. Today there are many sensor technologies for measuring liquid level such as Radar, ultrasonic and conductive. However, these are either too high in price for a relatively simple lift station or unreliable due to the operating environment. In recent years, submerged hydrostatic pressure transmitters have been developed to withstand the environmental conditions and provide continuous monitoring for enhancement of the control with increased long term reliability.

The technology

A number of manufacturers such as STS have developed dedicated sensors for this application. An example of this is the ATM/K/N as shown below. There are many features which have been specifically designed into this level/pressure transmitter to overcome the challenges faced in sewage lift stations.

Image 1: ATM/K/N – Submersible level sensor with ceramic measuring cell

As many lift stations are located in very inaccessible places the overwhelming requirement is for reliability. This requires a clean design with high integrity seals. Due to the nature of the effluent, the sensing element must be exposed to avoid clogging.

This problem is also becoming more important due to the increase in FOG (fats, oil and grease) associated with fast food restaurants. The use of ceramic capacitive sensing technology provides a rugged open face sensor while having the ability to achieve high accuracy, better than 0.1%, down to sewage levels of just a few inches of water. The technology also provides a very high overpressure of at least 3x the rated range without any degradation of the sensor performance. This protects the transmitter against damage due to overflow or back pressures. The laser welded 1″ diameter housing is generally made from 316L stainless steel, although titanium is often preferred where the effluent is more corrosive.

A further design feature is the electrical connection.Various electrical outputs are required including the most popular 4-20 mA 2-wire loop power or 1-5 Volts. In some cases users wish to adjust the level transmitter and this can be achieved via digital communication featuring a full scale range turndown to 10% of the originally specified range. These transmitters can be provided with a full scale preset range to suit any sewage lift station. In lift stations where hazardous gases exist, transmitters can be certified FM intrinsically safe for use in Class I, II & III, Div. I, Groups A, B, C, D, E, F & G.

The cable termination is also important, not only to provide connection to the control system and pump, but also to provide an outlet for the breather tube to the atmospheric pressure. This is vital to ensure the correct operation of the transmitter which would otherwise be affected by changes in barometric pressures. However, this reference breather tube must be protected from ingress of moisture. There are many techniques for this, such as the use of desiccant within the termination enclosure, to enhance the long term reliability of the transmitter. STS has developed a sealed Mylar enclosure which requires zero maintenance and does not rely on the use of desiccants or consumables.

Because the submersible level transmitter is relatively light in weight and it is preferred to position the transmitter a few inches from the tank bottom, it is fairly common to use sink weights. This type of sink weight is sometimes called a “bird cage” and, in the case of the STS transmitter, can be removed from the transmitter if necessary. In other cases, the “bird cage” is integral to the transmitter.



The high integrity well developed submersible pressure transmitters of today provide very reliable, zero maintenance, level monitoring and pump control for sewage lift stations and deep well monitoring. These hydrostatic level measuring transmitters are continually monitoring the sewage level, and with the enhancements in the associated control systems, provide information related to pump performance and general health monitoring of the facility.

Level monitoring for pump control in rainwater and wastewater tanks

Level monitoring for pump control in rainwater and wastewater tanks

Water supply and wastewater disposal vary according to local conditions. In Belgian buildings, many cellars are situated deeper than the sewage system. Wastewater disposal here must therefore be regulated by pumps.

The Belgian company Pumptech provides home owners and caretakers with powerful industrial pumps, through which water circulation within the buildings is partly regulated. This is essential in various regions of Belgium, because the cellars in the buildings there are often located beneath the sewage system.

Since this wastewater cannot flow directly into the sewage system, however, it is temporarily stored inside tanks. Rainwater is also often collected in these buildings and then used for sanitary facilities. The rainwater hitting the roof is fed into underground tanks where it remains available for further use. As wastewater, it finally flows into the separate wastewater tanks, from where it is then pumped into the sewage system.

Whether in these wastewater or rainwater tanks, monitoring of the levels is essential for a regulated operation of the pumps. For this purpose, Pumptech has been using ATM.ECO/N submersible probes for 15 years now. Originally, level monitoring was performed here by float switches. As it turned out over time, this was an unsatisfactory solution – especially in regards the wastewater tanks. The big disadvantage of float switches in comparison to immersion probes is that they quickly become dirty due to impurities floating on the water surface and will then no longer work properly. This can have far-reaching consequences, since the pumps themselves are controlled by measurement of the filling level. Usually there are two to three pumps inside the tanks. When a predetermined level is exceeded, the first pump starts operation, with the second pump cutting in at the next fixed level. Alarms can also be triggered should certain limits be reached

Submersible probes, which are usually installed at the bottom of the tank, are not particularly susceptible to waterborne contamination. Once Pumptech had tested various suppliers, their choice eventually fell on the analogue level probe ATM.ECO/N from STS, since these best met their requirements when compared to competitors in regards their required long-term stability. Since then, these pump controls have been working away without incident.

The ATM.ECO/N immersion probes boast a fully sealed membrane made of high-quality stainless steel. A moisture filter on the pressure connection cable also prevents water or other contaminants from entering its measuring cell. A further advantage is the far better reaction time when compared to the previous float switch solution, which now allows users to see immediately what is happening inside the tanks.

You can find the data sheet for the ATM.ECO/N level probe here.

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