Michelle Owen is worried about what Baker City residents might be tossing into their toilets.

Her interest is purely professional.

Owen is the city’s public works director, which means the miles of pipes that run beneath the city are part of her purview.

And with the coronavirus crisis leading to shortages of toilet paper due to panic buying, Owen knows it’s likely that residents will resort to alternatives, potentially including paper towels, napkins and wipes described on the package as “flushable.”

She recommends people place those products in the trash instead.

The problem, she said, is that items other than toilet paper are not designed to break down rapidly, even if they seem similar.

And although these products, including ostensibly flushable wipes, can potentially clog the city’s sewer mainlines, Owen said by far the biggest risk is to the lateral lines that connect homes to the mainlines. That’s because the laterals are much smaller diameter pipes. And unlike the mainlines, which the city is responsible for unclogging, blockage on the laterals is the homeowner’s responsibility.

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