Down the manhole: Dirty jobs keep Bend clean

Utility workers take to Bend sewers

Getting dirty to stay clean

BEND, Ore. - You've seen the signs before: road work ahead. So what is the "work" these signs advertise?

"What we had to do here was make some surface repairs," said D.J. Buhmann, a Bend utility worker.

Utility workers in Bend are always busy with jobs like these.

"Within the city of Bend, we've got 10,000 manholes and 350 miles of (gravity) sewer line," Buhmann said.

Keeping up the city's infrastructure by making repairs, checking sewer lines, and spending some time in manholes.

Even in shallow manholes, workers need to monitor the air quality the entire time they're in them.

"If we lose oxygen content, it can be a risk for the manhole entrant, because they're going to get woozy -- they're going to get light headed, they could pass out," Buhmann said.

It's a job some might call dirty.

"Bend has a lot of pressure sewer lines, and when those break, there is a flow of sewage that is not stoppable until it's drained out of that line," Buhmann said.

But it's crucial work for the city.

"People need to be conscientious of what they're doing," Buhmann said. "You know I've pulled car keys, cell phones -- I've seen mice in the sewer, clothing in the sewer."

Some the workers actually like their so called dirty job.
"It's great -- I love it," Buhmann said. "I get my hands on a lot of different things every day."

Like it or not, you can make their job easier with one rule.

"If it doesn't come out of your body and it's not toilet paper, it doesn't need to go down there," Buhmann said.

Just one way to keep Bend better, down the line.

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