Sewer Backups

Sanitary Sewer Blockages

Sanitary Sewers

The City of Topeka has approximately 760 miles of sanitary sewers. Water Pollution Control, a division of the Utilities Department, regularly cleans all sanitary sewer mains in the city. Although sanitary sewers are cleaned routinely, the possibility of sewage blockages still exist.
Citizens in the city experience approximately thirty sewer blockages monthly. Although not a large number, blockages can be expensive once repairs are totaled. Many sewer blockages can be prevented through awareness and regular cleaning of private lines by citizens.

Identifying The Problem

What should you do when you experience ‘sewer’ odors, slow drains, or back-ups?
If an odor originates from a house drain, first check to see if the water trap in the drain contains water. Pour water into the drain if you are unsure. The water trap provides an odor barrier between the drain and the sewer line. If a drain is not used for an extended period of time, the water in the trap evaporates and the odor barrier is lost. If the odor is not from a drain, call Water Pollution Control 785-368-3111 and someone will be dispatched to determine whether the source of the problem is from the city sanitary sewer or a contractor needs to be called.
If you believe the city sanitary sewer may be backing up, call Water Pollution Control 785-368-3111 day or night and to have the city sanitary sewer main checked. A city crew will be dispatched to confirm whether the problem is in the city main. They will advise you accordingly. At this point you are responsible for any problems in your private line and may need to call a plumber.

Solving the Problem

The most common cause of sanitary sewer line blockage is from root intrusion. Roots grow into sanitary sewer lines searching for water and nourishment. Roots can find their way into the smallest openings and begin growing and expanding, completely filling sewer lines and creating failures. These openings include pipe connections and cracks in pipes.

There are two effective methods for removing roots in sewer lines. The first, and most common, is to use a blade to cut the roots out of the line. The second is to use a commercial herbicide that can be applied by the city.

If a building is having constant problems with their sewer line, it may be a good investment to have the sanitary sewer line cleaned by a contractor periodically. Perhaps a private sanitary sewer line is having trouble every two years with tree roots – a contractor should clean the line every one-and-a-half years.

Water Pollution Control has a scheduled maintenance program for all public sanitary sewer lines. All sanitary sewer lines between 8″ and 21″ are cleaned at least every three years with a circular hydraulic root saw and high-pressure high-volume water or a commercial herbicide to retard root growth.

Sanitary Sewers: Public & Private

The city’s sanitary sewer main consists of the actual sewer main pipes, manholes, and the wye and tee fittings that connect to a building’s private sewer. The building sewer consists of the connection to the sanitary sewer main wye or tee fittings and all piping, fittings and connections from the sanitary sewer main connection to the building.

The city will excavate for repairs of sanitary sewers when the city can determine that the sanitary sewer main is unserviceable. All other excavations, for a building’s sanitary sewer problems, are the responsibility of the owner.

Several problems can be created by failures in city sanitary sewer mains. The sewage can back into facilities, spill out onto the surface of the ground or into waterways, remove lids from manholes, and create voids and cavities underground.

When sewage backs into facilities, occupants need to prevent having direct skin contact with the raw sewage for health reasons. Stepping into water from sewage can also create the risk of electrical shock if the water is contacting electrical outlets, extension cords, or other electrical devices.

Seepage of sewage onto the ground surface or into waterways can create health risks for both people and animals. The pressure of a blockage overflowing from a manhole can remove the manhole lid and pool on the ground creating the risk of falling into a manhole full of sewage by a person, animal or vehicle.

Tips for Avoiding Sewer Problems

Do not plant trees over sewer lines. The roots will try to penetrate open pipe joints causing flow obstructions and/or structural problems.

Avoid flushing materials that are non-water soluble down sinks, toilets, and drains that can cause plugging problems. these materials include fats and cooking oils, diapers, baby wet cloths, sanitary disposables, clothing articles, trash, etc.

Check storm water discharge (roof drains, yard drains, sump pumps, etc.) to make sure it does not go into the sanitary sewer. These overload the sewer during rains by adding extraneous water to the sanitary sewer. If you are in doubt about where your storm water drains or sump pump discharges, please call Water Pollution and someone will help you.

You may consider installing a backflow valve that allows sewage to flow to the city sanitary drain, but does not allow flow from the sewer back through the valve. If interested, you may contact plumbing suppliers or contractors for types and costs of backflow valves.

Check your insurance to see if you are covered by sump pump failure and sewer backups. There are policies available with a rider to cover these occurrences.

Reducing Potential Property Damage

If a sanitary sewer stoppage should occur, the chances of property damage will be reduced where there is good access to the city sewer line. Ready access will decrease the amount of time required to resolve the problem. There are approximately 13,000 manholes in the city sewer system. Many of these are located in public easements adjacent to private property. If the manholes are visible on the ground surface, emergency crews can immediately get equipment into the sewer to clear the stoppage.

Maintaining Good Access to Sewers

To maintain good access to sewers, the homeowner can:

  • Keep trees, bushes, shrubs, etc., clear of manholes so city crews have good access
  • Keep all alleys and easement access mowed, clear of plants, trees, fences and all debris
  • If you know of a buried manhole, please report it so it can be railed
  • Do not place birdbaths or heavy flower pots on top of manholes

Helpful Resources