Protect Yourself Against Sewer Backups

Sewer backups can cause severe property damage, health risks, and be extremely expensive.  Sewer backups occur when a blockage exists in the sewer main or service line forcing sewage back into a structure.

The cost of a sewer backup can be reduced by having insurance coverage for sewer backups on your homeowner’s insurance policy.  Every property owner should contact their insurance company to see if they are covered for sewer backups.  If not, consider purchasing additional coverage.  Buildings with basements, drains, or plumbing fixtures are vulnerable to sewer backups.

Grease and tree roots are the main causes of backups.  Grease poured down drains can solidify and cause blockages.  Tree and shrub roots can infiltrate sewer pipes, diminishing flow capacity and trapping debris.  Trees in the willow family (Salicaceae), which includes cottonwoods, are more prone to grow into sewer lines as their roots seek moisture through pipe joints.

Paper towels, plastic bags, diapers, washcloths, towels, and other bulky items that do not deteriorate quickly can also cause sewer backups.  Needles and other sharp objects in sewers pose a grave danger to plumbers and city employees.  Always dispose of these items in proper “sharps containers,” available from most pharmacies.  You can also put them in a sturdy container (not a milk jug), tape it shut, and throw it in the garbage.

Backups can also occur when storm drainages are connected to sanitary sewer lines.  During rain events, water can be channeled to sewers and overload the system.  The EPA outlawed such connections in the 1970s.  Homes built before the early ‘70s might still have such connections.  The homeowner should eliminate these connections. 

The city is responsible for clearing blockages in sewer mains.  The homeowner is responsible for maintaining their service line (i.e., line running from the main to your home).

Prevent sewer backups by disposing of grease in a container, allowing it to harden, and putting it in the garbage.  Vegetable and meat scraps, butter, rice, salad dressing, and other food items can also cause clogs.  Dispose of these items in the garbage or compost bin instead of the garbage disposal.  Don’t flush socks, plastic bags, paper towels, or other bulky items down the toilet or drain.  Teach and watch children to prevent them from flushing these items down the toilet.

Know the location of your service line, and avoid planting deep rooting trees and shrubs nearby.  Clear tree roots from pipes either by cutting or applying an herbicide every two years.

If your neighborhood or house is prone to sewer backups, consider installing a 4” sewer backflow preventer (a.k.a. check valve) on your service line.  This device will prevent backups originating from your neighbors or the main line, but will not prevent backups from your own service line.  Signs of sewer backups include gurgling sounds coming from drains and pipes, strong sewage smells, sewage coming from drains, or flooding.

If a sewer backup occurs, immediately call the Wastewater Plant at 474-6840 unless you are positive the problem is in your service line.  In the meantime, do not run any water down the drain or flush the toilet.  Avoid skin contact with the sewage, and certainly don’t stand or play in it (it’s happened).  The city crew will clear the blockage if it’s in the main line.  If the problem is in the service line, you’ll have to call a plumber, or if you have a 4” cleanout installed on your service line, the city will clean your line for a service charge of $100.00 per hour with a one (1) hour minimum charge.  You can call the Wastewater Plant at 474-6840 for more information.

Everything touched by the sewer water needs to be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, or discarded.  Protective clothing such as rubber gloves should be worn while cleaning to prevent infection from the bacteria and virus-laden sewage.


  1. Contact your insurance company and see if you are insured against sewer backups.
  2. If you are not insured, consider purchasing additional coverage because the city is usually not responsible for damages caused by a blocked sewer line.
  3. Call the Wastewater Plant at 474-6840 immediately if you suspect there is a sewer backup.
  4. If you do not have a sewer backflow preventer/check valve on your     service line, consider having one installed to prevent backflow in your home.





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