Written by Kelly Kaczala
February 27, 2009
Oregon will be sending out notices to property owners who illegally connect sump pumps and downspouts to sanitary sewers in an attempt to address inflow and infiltration (I&I) issues that have caused flooding after heavy rain.
“I will be sending out violation notices to a lot of people who have illegal connections,” said Public Service Director Paul Roman.
Violators will be given time to fix the problem, he said.
“I will give them so many days to do it. There will be penalties if they don’t,” he said.
The city has been vigorously addressing flooding problems that have besieged many homeowners since last July following heavy rains. Since then, temporary flow meters have been installed at five locations in the sanitary sewer system to reduce or eliminate excessive storm water from getting into the wastewater collection system. Flow monitoring, video detection and smoke testing help identify inflow and infiltration sources. The city is planning on conducting smoke tests in June, said Roman.
Illegal connections to sanitary sewers contribute to the problem, he said.
“The sanitary sewer should only have your toilet or sink going to it. But some people connect their sump pumps to the sanitary sewers instead of the storm sewers and that’s illegal,” he said. “They do it because it’s easy. Instead of taking that pipe and routing it out into the yard to the nearest storm sewer, it’s easy for them to tie it into the sanitary in the basement and be done with it. But in our code, you can’t have storm water going into the sanitary. It’s clearly listed as a violation.”
Improperly connected downspouts are also illegal.
“A downspout should just be connected above grade and routed out away from a building. Normally, we don’t allow it underground, but there’s a lot of existing homes that already have their downspouts in the ground. It goes down in the ground then it’s supposed to go off to the nearest storm sewer. But the problem is that some of these older homes have them tied into the sanitary. And again, that’s illegal. Someone may have a yard drain, and perhaps it’s old or was built with the house in the 1930s, Maybe they had it connected to the sanitary and they didn’t know any better. All they know is it drains the yard. But when we go and smoke test, and I pump a bunch of smoke into that sanitary, it’s going to come up out of any outside vent it can come out of. And if it comes out of a backyard drain or a downspout, we’ll know those are illegally connected to the sanitary,” he said.
Homeowners can easily correct an illegally connected downspout, he said.
“A downspout can be fixed in an hour. You can cut it above grade, put an elbow on it. Very little expense as well. For something like that, we’ll give them 30 days to fix. If it’s something worse, maybe we’ll give them a little more time. But the idea is we would put them on notice and they would get a letter saying it’s illegal,” he said.
The severe nature of the problem of I&I is highlighted by the last big rain storm in Oregon, when the city pumped raw sewage from the sewer main into Otter Creek where Starr Avenue crosses the creek.
“What happens is we get these big events, and we’ll get direct inflow into the sanitary, where it backs up. In order to not allow it to back up into someone’s basement, we have to pump it. I do have to report it to the EPA and say what we did, and where and when. No one’s really proud of doing that. I don’t want to pump at all, but we would get calls from people saying it’s literally coming up into their basements. We have an obligation to protect the people, too,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city will continue to identify sources of I&I and in an effort to correct the flooding problem.
“To do all this is going to take a while. And hopefully, there’s going to be less and less pumping for every big event. We’re getting storm events more often now than ever before. We really don’t want to treat storm water in our wastewater plant. It’s expensive to treat it. There’s more than the environmental side to it. It’s been going on for too long. We do have to hit this hard,” he said.
The city will likely set up a Web site to answer questions residents might have on smoke testing and illegal sanitary sewer connections, similar to a Web site that addressed the city’s sidewalk program.
“We want to have that all established and ready to go before we even begin,” he said. “We probably won’t start until June. But the idea is to have all these things in place, and even send out a letter to explain what we’re doing.”
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