Resource:Sewer Back-up Prevention

Sewer authorities are regularly responding to sewer back-up complaints. Irrespective of how or why the sewer back-up occurred, the municipal authority typically receives a call and, in some cases, the customer is looking for assistance with cleaning up the sewerage and clearing out the sewer line. In order to reduce the potential for sewer back-ups at your customer’s property, the following steps should be considered as part of an ongoing sewer maintenance and inspection program.  

Both large and small waste water treatment operations have exposure to damage and losses from sewer back-up events. The resources to maintain systems and respond to events will vary from district to district based on their budgets. Some organizations have the resources for extensive preventative operations while others have more limited capacity to respond to events typically using their own staff, materials and equipment.

Sewer back-up events can involve damage to pipes, residential and commercial occupancies and it may create an unsanitary situation. Sewer back-up events may be reduced by developing an appropriate maintenance program, subject to the resources available to the sewer authority. Focusing on historical back-up and “hot spot’ areas can help authorities prioritize maintenance activities. A sewer maintenance plan may include:

System & Pipe Inspections 

  • An ongoing review of internal piping systems for damages including identification and removal of cracked/deteriorating pipes, leaking joints/seals at the manhole, line plugs and other problems. Sewer districts with fewer resources can focus on the most problematic regions.
  • Testing of the system and piping using visual, closed circuit TV camera systems and/or smoke leak testing methods.
  • Conducting inspections of lift station pumps, motors, impellers and associated equipment looking for accumulation of debris and grease that can hamper equipment operation. Pump failure at a lift station should be alarmed to the companies SCADA system.

Pressure Clearing of Pipes

  • Implementing a sewer flushing program with high pressure water to keep lines clear of debris, tree roots, grease and other blockage materials.
  • Reviewing ‘trouble call records’ to help pinpoint problem areas so maintenance crews can be proactive in fixing a problem before a backup occurs.
  • Following up with customers when inspections uncover potential problem areas that are the responsibility of that customer. Following up with written notices when a potential problem area that is the responsibility of a customer remains unresolved. 

System Design Precautions

  • Identifying problem areas that may be caused by wet weather conditions, customer usage and piping design that can cause blockage and overflow in the system. Once identified a feasible response plan should be implemented.
  • Supporting ordinances to eliminate non-sewer connections such as roof drains and sump pumps during new construction, building renovation projects and sewer line replacement or expansion projects. 
  • Establishing programs to control the discharge of fats, oils and grease that may include control or restaurant grease traps. 
  • Requiring restaurants to provide documentation that the grease traps have been cleaned annually. 

Response Equipment

  • Having suitable equipment to deal with common back-up events. This should include evaluating the need for sewer maintenance equipment (TV inspection, jetvac or sewer jet equipment) to help remove any blockage and facilitate cleanup and/or developing agreements with outside contractors to handle these operations on an as needed basis.
  • If response crews and equipment are contracted from an outside vendor/contractor, the written agreement should specify that the contractor has suitable staffing and equipment to handle typical events. Hold harmless and indemnification agreements in favor of sewer district or authority should be part of this agreement, and a Certificate of Insurance should be obtained. As with any legal document, a review by legal counsel is recommended. 

Emergency Response 

  • Developing and implementing a written plan to deal with back-up events. At a minimum this plan should meet your state’s requirements.
  • Providing customers with a phone number to contact you about events.

Pipe Replacement Program

  • Developing a feasible plan (long-term capital budget) to replace aging pipe on a proactive basis. Aging or historical problem areas should receive priority. This plan would be in addition to handling system line breaks. 

Educate Customers

  • Communicating with customers on steps they can take to help prevent sewer back-up events (i.e. – keeping diapers, grease and other problem materials out of the system).
    • Additional guidance providing customer communications can be found by referring to the Risk Communiqués entitled:
      • “Sewer Back-up Customer Notice”
      • “Sewage Spill Clean-up Tips”

Sewer Back-up Preventive Maintenance Checklist

Completed by: _____________________________________________Date Completed:______________________________

System Description:______________________________________________________________________________________     

System & Pipe Inspections

  1. Visutal Inspection
  2. Closed Circuit TV Camera Systems
  3. Smoke Testing
  4. Lift Stations on PM Program to include Pumps, Impellers, Motors, Alarms and Regular Cleaning
  5. Lift Station Flow meters monitored for unacceptable discharge variances
  6. Other

Routine Pressure Clearing of Pipes

  1. Pressure Cleaning
  2. Root, Tree & Debris Removal
  3. Elimination of Non-Related Connections to Sewer

Response Equipment

  1. Vacuum Unit(s) Capabilities
  2. Suitable Capacity High Pressure Blow Down Units

Emergency Response

  1. Formalized Written Emergency Response Plan

Pipe Replacement Program

  1. Pipe Replacement Plan & Budget
  2. Identified the Amount of Pipe Breaks Anticipated Annual for Projection