The History of Trenchless Sewer Repair

Over the past few decades, trenchless technology has revolutionized sewer repair. No-dig sewer replacement has become more well-known in recent years thanks to benefits, such as environmental friendliness, cost savings, and minimal disturbance to surroundings. But did you know that this method wasn’t approved for use by local contractors in the East Bay area prior to 1998?

Why Trenchless Sewer Repair is Important

Prior to the adoption of trenchless technology, plumbing companies were forced to dig trenches using an excavator and hand digging with shovels. A project could take several days with multiple crewmen. By today’s standards, this would be considered very inefficient.


Over the past few decades, no-dig, trenchless technology has been a blessing to cities and municipalities that must replace old infrastructure like aging sewer pipes and gas mains—especially in communities such as our own where many sewage systems are decades old and contribute to problems such as pollution of the San Francisco Bay.

The History of Trenchless Technology

Let’s take a walk through time and explore the key events that led to the widespread use of trenchless technology. This story starts nearly 50 years ago in the United Kingdom and ends today in the San Francisco Bay:


  • Eric Wood, an engineer and innovator working in England’s agriculture industry, develops and uses the first cured-in-place piping (CIPP) to fix a pipe without disturbing a mushroom bed.


  • Martin Cherrington uses an innovative horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technique to drill beneath the Pajaro River in California.2


  • First use of CIPP in North America.1


  • The first association with a trenchless focus is established: the National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO).3*


  • Pipe bursting enters mainstream during a large-scale civic project in UK.1


  • British Gas and DJ Ryan applied for the first pipe bursting patents.1


  • Microtunneling enters mainstream during large pipe installation project in Florida (it was first developed in Japan in the 1970s).1


  • The Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) is established at Louisiana Tech University.5


  • The North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT) was established.3*


  • Pipe Spy becomes an early adopter and advocate of trenchless sewer repair and replacement before it was widely available for commercial use in the East Bay. (We even used prototypes of the technology for the pulling of private sewer laterals.)


  • Pipe Spy demonstrates portable trenchless tech for use on private sewer laterals and advocated for our customers by working with the local utility inspectors to gain approval for the new technology. In 1998 the Cities of the East Bay began to approve the technology’s use for sewer laterals.


  • First textbook on Trenchless Technology published by Dr. Mohammad Najafi.6, 7


  • The first World Trenchless Day is celebrated.4


  • Our team currently uses a hydraulic pipe pulling system where the boring technology eliminates the need for digging trenches, contributing to its status as one of the most eco-friendly and efficient methods of trenchless technology approved for use in our local service areas.

*Pipe Spy is a proud member of these industry organizations.

The Future

The future of our trenchless practice will focus on the use of hydraulic directional drilling (also known as directional boring). This is a push rod system that will create the opportunity to execute seamless pipe installations of several types, including sewers, gas lines, water lines, and more.


As the industry continues to innovate, we plan to stay at the forefront—bringing customers the most efficient practices and the best customer service around.

Learn More

If you’re still looking for information about trenchless technology, our team of plumbing experts is always glad to help.

Explore our services and please feel free to get in touch with our team any time.


  1. Who Invented Trenchless Technology?
  2. A Brief History of Directional Drilling: The Birth and Development of the HDD Market
  3. Trenchless Technology (Wikipedia)
  4. Inaugural World Trenchless Day a Success
  5. Trenchless Technology Center
  6. Trenchless Technology : Pipeline and Utility Design, Construction, and Renewal
  7. Trenchless Technology – A Journey Through the History