sewage backup. is city responsible?

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Hopefully some plumbing experts here willing to chime in!

preface: sewer lines no septec.
Had a couple of big rains and it seems when/after the big rains, i'm getting a sewage backup in my basement. after the 2nd rain had a plumber come and snake both the inside lines and the line to the street. old house -couldnt find the cleanout line outside, so he snaked it from the inside and left me with a giant mess! 1/2" of sewage all over my basement(unfinished)! cost me a bit to be cleaned up and dissinfected. cant figure out why the plumber didnt put down a tarp first and kiddie pool to contain the mess instead of flooding my basement with it...needless to say he wont be coming back. anyway, rained again and had some more backup.

at this point i'm thinking that the issue might be a sewer problem with the city and an overflow of rainwater from the sewer system backing into my line. anyone have any insight? will the city come down and check their end of it? am i offbase here? also anyone have any thoughts on checkvalves?

lastly have done nothing with insurance. everything out of pocket.

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Dont dig. Look up on your roof for a vent, then use a thin rod to poke into the ground in front or back in that straight... (more)

Lappie (Jun. 13, 2011 @ 1:07p) |

I'd also consider contacting your local elected official (city commissioner, alderman, councilman ) and describe the spe... (more)

wordgirl (Jun. 13, 2011 @ 1:39p) |

no, it really is in the city charter, double checked after the water line in the middle of the street broke this winter ... (more)

crazypalooza (Jun. 13, 2011 @ 4:12p) |

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Time to install a check valve. Sewer lines don't usually have a vent outside the house. There are usually multiple vents coming out your roof. What you are talking about is a cleanout outside the home. But if the sewer backs up into your house, snaking your line will only make it back up faster. I can't believe your plumber left you hang. Find a better one.

yes, meant cleanout valve, not vent. will edit to fix.

Every municipality handles these backups differently. They'll probably come out to take a look if you bug them enough. You can try filing a claim with the sewer district, but you're almost sure to get a denial (unless it is a weird district like St. Louis MSD that pays something on almost every claim). Some areas have a program where you can get a rebate on part of the cost of getting a check valve installed. Most of the time you're out of luck and have to pay everything out of pocket.

This may seem obvious, but on Monday call up the city's DPW and get ahold of the right person. Explain the situation and see what they say.

Rain/stormwater shouldn't cause backups in an ideal world, but it often does. Storm water and sanitary sewer systems are supposed to be separate. Some older cities still have parts that are connected, but they're moving to separate them. If storm water drains connect to the sewer system, that creates a huge amount of extra water that has to be treated. Large rains can overwhelm the treatment plant forcing them to discharge raw sewage into the outlet (river/ocean).

The point of the above paragraph, is that in many places it is illegal to connect stormwater drains to the sewer system. You may want to be absolutely sure that your roof gutters, your basement drainage system, your sump pump, or anything else are not sending water down the sanitary sewer system. It'd be a good idea to verify this before you call out your city's DPW.

2) Ask your neighbors if they have a similar problem. If they do, then it's likely an issue further down the sewer system - definitely call in the city.

The cause of the problem is often called "Inflow and Infiltration" or I&I. This can be, for example, improperly sealed manhole covers or other access points that let stormwater in the city's sewer, or just old porous pipes that let in ground water when it rains. If you've ever seen one of those Insituform ( crews hanging around manholes in your city, they are relining either water mains or sewer lines to help stop this problem. Maybe too many of your neighbors are unintentionally sending storm water down the sewer system.

BTW what a crappy plumber, literally.

johnm4: nothing connected, so no worries there. will call on monday, just bracing myself for the city being the city....

crazypalooza said:   johnm4: nothing connected, so no worries there. will call on monday, just bracing myself for the city being the city....
Do not delay, call the city immediately today. My water authority has an emergency answering service. I have called it a few times when I didn't have water and they were friendly and explained when the water would be restored. I think it would be very fair to call this number to report you have a sewage backup and request an immediate check of the public portions of the sewers near your house. This check of the public sewer lines should be free to you.
I lived somewhere once where there was some sewage backup (not nearly as much as described by the OP) but we called the water authority first. It was a weekday and they came out within 1-2 hours with two trucks. They immediately went to the nearest manhole to the house and checked to see if it was clear. They then snaked the first 4 feet of the house's sewer line (they actually snaked almost up to the house as part of a $40 bribe). It turned out there were some tree roots in the sewer line and later on we had rotorooter come out a clean out the line. This is obviously a different situation from the OP, but I still think the OP should start by making an emergency complaint to his water authority.

If the plumber hadn't done the snaking, I'd have guessed 70 out 100 the problem is a blockage in your line. After the plumber cleaned out your line, the only remaining possibility is a blockage in the city's line along the street. The problem here is you don't know if the plumber knows what he is doing. Did he hit a blockage? Did he use a cutter that can cut through roots? Normally in this type of situation the plumber would have told you something like "your line is clear now but you should call the city".

In NYC. Had same problem,
Loser plumber said it is a city issue. City came to inspect sewer caps in street. Not city. Had to call another was, as it always is, tree prevent more backing up, I've been using "Root Kill." can get it at Home Depot....Lowes has similar product for much more. It's a dry, blue, grainy substance that you dump in basement drain once a month....or whenever u remember....I usually make it a point to remember April thru august...after that, I selectively forget...
Good luck.

called water company emergency line, but they only handle water, not sewer. will call sewer tomorrow, as the line is fine for now. only backs up when it rains. thinking it wasnt tree roots as the plumber initially thought he might need to cut through tree roots but then said he only had to snake the lines. not that i trust the plumber. for good measure ill pour some root-kill down there too. will call the city tomorrow and update for those interested.

We used to live and own property in Cambridge, Mass., where the sewerage system was (and probably still is) hundreds of years old. It happened about every ten years or so, but we could pretty much count on a heavy enough rain overwhelming the sewer system and flooding the basements of every home in a 4 block radius.

In our case muddy water (not sewage, thank goodness) would come flowing up through the sinks, washer and toilet in the basement. We never filed a claim against the city--frankly because I just assumed it would be denied. It wasn't like we were the only ones with the problem, every house in the neighborhood would have the same issue so I wasn't sure where we could go with a claim against a city with an antiquated drainage/sewer system.

Our bad, I guess.

After flood #3 we talked to a plumber and had check valves installed -- and they worked very well.

Regardless of the outcome of your claim you should talk with a good plumber and have check valves installed in every drainage pipe in your basement. Get good ones -- you can get cheapie plastic ones or heavy duty metal valves, we went for the latter, since it was waaaay cheaper than installing a french drain (which was another suggestion we got from another plumber.)

Good luck!

Our county requires us to install a backflow prevention device. According to them, if our plumbing is below the level of an overflowing manhole, sewage can enter the house. By mandating the devices, they are off the hook if it does occur which I guess it shouldn't if you install the device.

Actually the city isn't always a PITA. There is the DMV stupidity, but actually I've had pretty good city responsiveness from their water utility/sewer- they actually got back to me quickly and seemed like they knew what they were doing. Best of luck. Get a good plumber.

I have seen situations where the clog is caused by grease and the standard plumber snake wont work... it goes through the clog, but the clog closes back up when the snake is pulled out.

You need a grease saw... some guys, especially in urban environments, are more familiar with the problem.

Good Luck!

Listen to the people telling you to get a check valve.

To answer OP's question, I'd guess the responsibility for a sewage backup depends on the jurisdiction. For our house, we are responsible if the cause of the backup originates before the sidewalk, i.e. if the problem is on our property, such as tree roots causing a blockage, it's our reponsibility to get that fixed.

Where do you live OP? I had an identical situation. My house was built in 1909 and is on an alley. My city (Sacramento, CA) has a combined system which is common. It means that the storm drains also carry sewage. When there was a "rain event" my basement would fill with storm water (and sewage!). When the rains calmed, the water immediately drained out of the basement and back into the storm drains. This only happened when the storm drains "surcharged" -- meaning that there was more water than they could handle. There was seldom a true blockage - it was usually a matter of there being more water than the old drains could handle.

After several meetings with my contractor and the city, with a lot of finger pointing, I finally hired a plumber who installed a back flow valve in the sewer/grey water line and I haven't had a problem since - even when there were huge downpours. My plumber did explain that I should refrain from using excess water during a rain event because there would not be anywhere for this water to go if the storm drains were surcharging and the back flow valve was enabled.

A properly endorsed homeowner policy will cover your basement cleanup.

'Water and Sewer Backup' coverage is no more than $25+/- a year and sometimes bundled with other bells and whistles for a nominal annual fee.

While this coverage will cover the cleanup, it will not help with the installation of a check valve.

I had this happen repeatedly at my parents' house in NYC. Every time it would rain, water would flood our basement and all of our neighbors' basements as well. We called the city to no avail so we installed check valves, which helped ameliorate the problem. A few months later, after enough complaining through our civic association, the city finally dug out the drains in the neighborhood, which had been filled with debris. I saw them dig the drain in front of our house. It was filled entirely with leaves and dirt, and it took them hours to clean out using a really small Caterpillar.

update for those that are still following. sewage dept came down this morning. were very nice, but said the city has in its charter(?) that the homeowners own all the pipes into the middle of the street and that in the middle of the street there was nothing blocking so pretty much my problem from here. said the sewer lines are 100+ years old and have a "single vented trap" somewhere outside, which is where i should start. probably needs a snaking and cleanout from there, however there is no cleanout visible and he said it is probably buried and need to start digging up my lawn to look for it. worst case scenario, is the city paved the sidewalk/driveway over it. then im screwed. he had a reprint of 100 yearold handdrawn map with its approx location, but the map was from when the lines were first put in, so nothing on the map exists anymore including! even the measurements from the street are useless as the street has been changed and paved since cobblestone of 100 years ago!

Dont dig. Look up on your roof for a vent, then use a thin rod to poke into the ground in front or back in that straight
line. Eventually you will find the sewer line and then you can dig a little ways away from the house. Chances are, there
is a cleanout or at least a cover that can be opened and a cleanout installed.

I am not a plumber or expert, but I had a similar situation and called a plumber, he did what I described above and
found the sewer line. Charged me $150 for finding the line and another $150 to install a 12" PVC pipe from cover
to ground level for cleanout.

Just trying to help you out.

I'd also consider contacting your local elected official (city commissioner, alderman, councilman ) and describe the spectacularly unhelpful response you got from the city.

Many times, local elected officials can push city workers into helping a constituent out when city workers aren't willing to do it on their own.

Most city charters are now online. If you need help finding yours, PM me.

wordgirl said:   Most city charters are now online. If you need help finding yours, PM me. no, it really is in the city charter, double checked after the water line in the middle of the street broke this winter and the city wouldnt fix it as they said the neighbor needed to fix it(the bank, as the home was already forclosed on). A month later this city finally fixed it and sent a bill to the neighbor (the bank) for about $15k. Ironically, the city waited a month before doing anything, but decided to do something, on new years day (actually that night, after dark, a saturday, no less, so they could bill for overtime. brought about 15 workers, 4 trucks, police officers, and a whole slew of lighting equipment as it was night, instead of doing it on a weekday)

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