Sewer Back-ups

Sewer Back-ups - What Every Homeowner Should Know

Sewer back-ups are a potential problem facing all residents. Claims for damages to homes caused by sewer back-ups probably lead to more misunderstandings and hard feelings than any other single kind of claim. It might be possible to avoid some of these problems if homeowners are aware of 4 basic points regarding sewer back ups and the resulting damage:

  1. The city is not automatically liable for resulting damages whenever a sewer backs up. The city is only liable for those damages if the back up was caused by the city's negligence.
  2. Many homeowners' insurance policies exclude damage resulting from sewer back-ups. Thus, homeowners often end up looking to the city to pay their damages when their own homeowner's insurer denies their claim.
  3. Some homeowners insurance companies do provide sewer back up coverage. Therefore, it is possible for homeowners to protect themselves against this risk. Contact your insurance company for coverage information.
  4. The city maintains and owns the main line sanitary sewer main which usually runs down the center of most public streets. Residents are responsible for the service lines which come off the sewer main. The service lines generally run from each home or building to the sewer main in the street.

Residents should call the Public Works Department at 651-552-4150 for questions or additional information.

Sanitary Sewer Service Maintenance

Blocked sinks, overflowing toilets, and flooded basements are unpleasant emergencies and expensive problems, but much can be done to prevent their occurrence.

The City of West St. Paul Sewer Department regularly maintains 63 miles of sanitary sewer lines and related equipment. City crews clean or televise about 30 miles of sanitary sewer annually, meaning the entire system is completely maintained on a 2 year rotation.

Meanwhile, property owners are responsible for maintaining their individual sanitary sewer piping, which includes every drain and pipe in the house, the buried pipe that carries sewage to the main line in the street, and the connection to that main line. All property owners should know the location of their private sewer line (from the house to the street) and have it serviced regularly. They should be aware of what causes sewer backups and take steps to prevent them. (see below)

If your sewer backs up only when a faucet is running or toilet is flushed, the blockage is probably in your sewer service. If your sewer backs up when there are no faucets running or toilets flushed, the blockage is most likely in the city main line.

In West St. Paul, only a small percentage of sewer backups are caused by problems in city main lines. However, it’s important to call the city whenever a backup occurs. Utilities personnel will respond 24 hours a day to ensure the city main line is clear. If the blockage is not in the city main line, Utilities personnel will instruct you to contact a sewer cleaning service to remove the blockage from your service line. If you have your service line cleaned, contact the Utilities Division at the number listed below. Utilities personnel will respond to inspect the city main line for debris removed from your service line.

Remember to check your homeowners’ policy for sewer backup coverage.

How to Prevent Sewer Back-ups

Many residential sewer problems can be avoided by having your sewer line cleaned periodically and taking care with what goes into your sewer system. Following are the most common causes of blocked sewers.

  • Grease and Oils: Store grease in a container, and dispose of hardened grease in the trash. Use the garbage disposal sparingly, and flush with plenty of water.
  • Paper Products: Put paper products in the trash, not the toilet. These items do not dissolve.
  • Lint and Hair: Screen all drains and use a lint trap on your laundry hose.
  • Tree Roots: Avoid planting trees or shrubs over your sewer line. Roots are the number 1 problem in residential sanitary sewer systems.

Reporting Back-ups

Please call the Sewer Utilities Department at 651-552-4161 or 651-552-4160 during normal business hours (7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) to report a sewer backup. Dial 651-322-2323 to report a sewer backup outside normal business hours.