The Mayor, the Smart Sewer System and Burrito Night

Flickr user Lauren Topor


Connecting state and local government leaders

Just how targeted are the sensors in South Bend’s sewers?

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg—whose claim to fame used to be that he was the youngest mayor of a city of more than 100,000 people in the United States—was a guest last weekend on National Public Radio’s news quiz show, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. In the course of his appearance, Buttigieg made the case to host Peter Sagal that South Bend is the “best city in the country.” He bolstered his argument by using the city’s smart sewer system as an example of innovation. That’s when the exchange got a little weird.

Here’s how it went, starting with Sagal’s exploration of Buttigieg’s decision to return to South Bend as a young man and run for mayor:

SAGAL: Is it—now you were, like, headed for—I mean, you were maybe in finance or something like that with your background. Did your friends say—oh, I'm going back to South Bend, I'm going run for mayor—did they think you were crazy?

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. When I moved home, I remember I was getting a beer with some folks, and I said I was moving home to South Bend. They were like, oh, do you have a relative who's ill? No, mom and dad are great. I just want to go home. It's a great city, and I want to live there. It's a community that really—you get out of it what you put into it.

SAGAL: Right. What does that mean? Wait a minute. Hold on. Were you describing the lifestyle or the sewer system?

BUTTIGIEG: Are you aware that we have the smartest sewer system in the world?


BUTTIGIEG: It's true.

SAGAL: I wasn't aware, mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: That's a fact. We have the most densely sensored network of sewers anywhere in the world. Smart water technology is actually...

SAGAL: But by sensored, you don't mean, don't say that. You mean that mean sensors.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, yeah, no. We have these Wi-Fi-enabled sensors all through the system. They let us manage the flow, route things where it's supposed to go, mitigates flows going into the river.

SAGAL: How specific is it? Is it like, oh...God, the Harrisons had burrito night again.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know.

Photo: Flickr user Lauren Topor

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group based in Washington, D.C.

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