Sewer Laterals

From Beachapedia

Sewer Lateral Responsibility (City of Fort Walton Beach, Florida)

What are Sewer Laterals and Why are They Sometimes Pollution Sources?

A sewer lateral is the underground pipe that connects a residence or business to a main sewer line. Local governments often consider all or part of the sewer lateral to be the property and responsibility of the homeowner or business owner. In other places, a city or county will assume responsibility for the portion of a sewer lateral from the main line to the property line. Unfortunately, the privately-owned underground section of a lateral is often taken for granted until a problem erupts that can't be ignored -- such as raw sewage backing up into a dwelling. Note: In some locations, sewer laterals are referred to as "side sewers."

A number of things can compromise a lateral. Foreign substances or objects such as grease or disposable diapers flushed down a toilet can sometimes create a clog. Tree roots occasionally push through the side of a lateral. Or, over time, a very old sewer lateral pipe can simply corrode and crack.

The problems caused by failing pipes are broken into three categories:

  • Inflow: when rain water directly enters the pipe system
  • Infiltration: when groundwater enters the system
  • Exfiltration: when wastewater gets out of the pipe system and enters the surrounding ground

Occurrences of exfiltration are more limited than inflow and infiltration. For exfiltration to occur, the sewer pipes must be located above the groundwater. Where it does occur, however, exfiltration can threaten groundwater aquifers that are a source of drinking water. Coastal areas generally have shallow groundwater tables, and inflow and infiltration tend to be more problematic as flood conditions can saturate the ground around and above sewer pipes and laterals. A good description of inflow & infiltration and the problems that they cause can be found on this website. Here are some highlights:

Inflow is stormwater that enters into sanitary sewer systems at points of direct connection to the systems. Various sources contribute to the inflow, including footing/foundation drains, roof drains or leaders, downspouts, drains from window wells, outdoor basement stairwells, drains from driveways, groundwater/basement sump pumps, and even streams. These sources are typically improperly or illegally connected to sanitary sewer systems, via either direct connections or discharge into sinks or tubs. An improper connection lets water from sources other than sanitary fixtures and drains to enter the sanitary sewer system, when it should be entering the stormwater sewer system or allowed to soak into the ground instead. Improper connections can be made in either residential homes or businesses and can contribute a significant amount of water to sanitary sewer systems.

Infiltration is groundwater that enters sanitary sewer systems through cracks and/or leaks in the sanitary sewer pipes or laterals. Groundwater can enter these cracks or leaks wherever the pipes lie beneath water tables or the soil above the sewer systems becomes saturated, as happens often in coastal areas after rain events and during flooded conditions.

Inflow and Infiltration water is called "clear water" (although it may be dirty) to distinguish it from normal sanitary sewage water in the sewer system.

Why is Inflow and Infiltration a Problem?

Sanitary sewer systems are designed to carry wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, sinks, or showers in homes or businesses. Inflow and infiltration add clear water to sewer systems increasing the load on the systems. As the ground becomes saturated during rain events, inflow and infiltration can sometimes fill the sewer systems to capacity, or even overload the systems. Once this happens, either the wastewater flow moves backwards through the pipes, flooding basements or homes, or it moves forwards, to the sewage treatment facility where it can overwhelm and disrupt treatment processes resulting in poorly treated wastewater being discharged into the environment.

These sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) release wastewater and potential pathogens onto streets, into waterways, and basements increasing potential health risks. As wastewater overflows into creeks, rivers, lakes, and streams it contaminates all bodies of water fed by the waterways and all creatures/plants coming in contact with the polluted water. Sewer overflows also contribute to beach advisories and closures due to contamination. With this in mind, many cities across the U.S. have initiated programs to improve the integrity of sewer laterals and reduce leaks.

City or Regional Programs

Berkeley, California

(typical of many community programs bordering San Francisco Bay) (also see East Bay Regional Private Sewer Lateral Program and SAV_R_BAY)

"To protect the water quality of creeks, watersheds, and the San Francisco Bay, the City of Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) includes provisions related to the maintenance and repair of private sewer laterals. It is estimated that half the water that enters the City’s sewers during wet weather comes from deficient private sewer laterals (PSLs) and from downspouts and yard area drains that are directly connected to sanitary sewer laterals. Since October 2006, property owners have been required to obtain a Sewer Lateral Certificate of Compliance (SLC) prior to transfer or sale of property, or before obtaining a building permit for major construction projects such as remodels. The City amended its private sewer lateral ordinance (BMC Chapter 17.24), effective November 3, 2014 to comply with requirements mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State and Regional Water Boards. Under these requirements, the City’s PSL ordinance must be “no less stringent” than the Regional PSL Ordinance adopted by the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which applies to most of the communities within the EBMUD wastewater service area. All property owners -- including condominiums and other developments with shared laterals -- are required to obtain a Sewer Lateral Certificate (SLC) under the following conditions:

  1. By close of escrow for the transfer or sale of property (with some exceptions), unless a 6-month extension is granted prior to closing; OR
  2. When obtaining a Building Permit for construction or remodel valued over $60,000; OR
  3. When the City finds that the PSL may be a public nuisance; OR
  4. When a property owner elects to repair or replace their PSL.

In order to obtain a Sewer Lateral Certificate (SLC), all property owners must first obtain a PSL permit and demonstrate the PSL is in satisfactory condition, unless the property owner already has a valid SLC or can demonstrate that the PSL was replaced in the last 20 years, as evidenced by a permit signed off by a City Inspector. After obtaining the permit and passing a required Verification Test, all property owners will be issued a SLC."

Fort Walton Beach, Florida

"The City of Fort Walton Beach Sewer Collection system is comprised of public and private collection systems. These systems work together to carry the waste from your home to the appropriate treatment facilities. When pipes are old and in a deteriorated condition, they often fail, causing problems in the system. The problems caused by failing pipes are broken into three categories:

  • Inflow: when rain water directly enters the pipe system
  • Infiltration: when groundwater enters the system
  • Exfiltration: when wastewater gets out of the pipe system and enters the surrounding ground

If Your Sewer Lateral Fails
If your sewer lateral is failing, you more than likely will be experiencing a stop-up. In order for wastewater to continue being carried from your home to the appropriate treatment facility in a safe and sanitary fashion, the sewer lateral must be replaced.

Who is Responsible for fixing it?
Normally, responsibility for a sewer lateral is divided into two (2) parts: the sewer main and public right-of-way portion up to the property line is the responsibility of the City. The portion of the sewer lateral between the property line and the home is the responsibility of the homeowner. City Utilities staff can assess where the failure is on the sewer lateral and will determine whether the City or the homeowner is responsible for the replacement.

Here’s how the City can help
The City of Fort Walton Beach CDBG program is proud to offer its Sewer Lateral Replacement Program, which offers financial assistance for the replacement of deteriorated residential sewer laterals. Permitting fees as well as the cost of a licensed plumbing contractor are eligible for coverage. This means that even if the City is not financially responsible for the repairs, we may be able to cover up to 100% of the replacement cost on behalf of the homeowner.

To qualify, the affected residence must:

  • be located within the City limits
  • have a failing sewer lateral
  • be occupied by individual/s meeting the eligibility guidelines"

Laguna Beach, California

"Preventative Measures you can take to practice good “Lateral Hygiene”

  • Periodically have your sewer lateral video inspected and cleaned.
  • Always notify the Water Quality Department prior to your lateral being cleaned so City crews can catch roots in the main line to prevent a sewer spill.
  • Repair or replace deteriorated or damaged lateral pipes as soon as possible.
  • Do not plant trees or large scrubs above sewer lateral lines.
  • Never pour grease down a drain. Let it cool down and dispose of in the trash.
  • Scrape food off your dishes into the trash before rinsing off into the sink.

Problems to Look for:

  • Drain back ups inside your house or business.
  • Wet or soggy ground in your yard.
  • Water leaking from cleanouts or outside drains.
  • Unusual odors or sewage smells in or around your home or business."

Involvement in Sewer Lateral Issues by Surfrider Foundation Chapters

Santa Cruz, California

Surfrider Foundation's Santa Cruz Chapter has been participating in a Cowell Beach Working Group with other environmental NGO and local agencies to find and implement pollution solutions. The Working Group has already prompted changes in the management of the Neary Lagoon outfall that empties onto Cowell Beach. A gate has been installed at the lagoon, and a diversion pump to block foul water from reaching the beach is in the works. The Group has also recommended a new citywide sewer lateral inspection program. Area sewer mains were replaced in recent years, but they want to ensure laterals connecting homes and businesses to the system are in good working order. A full suite of recommendations from the Working Group is expected soon.

Read more about the Chapter’s efforts to solve the water pollution problems at Cowell Beach and to finally take this popular beach off the Beach Bummer list on their website.

Marin County, California

In June 2014, the Marin County Civil Jury released a review of the county's sewer systems where they called the County out for neglecting to properly maintain and repair their aging sewage infrastructure, which is particularly susceptible to leaks and spills during rain events. The grand jury recommended that local sewer agencies adopt new rules that require sewer hook ups (or laterals) to be tested and repaired when homes and business properties are sold, and further that agencies need to consider financing tools and public services that will provide incentives for fixing leaking sewer lines.

Due in part to the increased community awareness of the pollution problems in the Bay generated by Surfrider Foundation's Marin County Chapter and the Branson School Blue Water Task Force, the City of Mill Valley is now considering a new sewer lateral inspection ordinance to meet the recommendations of the grand jury. The City also operates a Cash for Sewers grant program that assists homeowners with the cost of lateral inspections and replacements.


What Is a Sewer Lateral? (wiseGEEK)

Inflow and Infiltration (Global Water)

Exfiltration in Sewer Systems (Amick and Burgess for U.S. EPA, December 2000)

City of Berkeley Private Sewer Lateral Program

City of Fort Walton Sewer Lateral Replacement Program

City of Laguna Beach Private Sewer Lateral Program

East Bay Private Sewer Lateral Program

SAV_R_BAY What is a Sewer Lateral Line?