Columbia cracks down on illegal sewer connections

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COLUMBIA – A report presented to Columbia City Council in September stated that illegal sewer connections are causing backups and overflows in residents homes. 

That's led the City of Columbia to crack down on illegal sewer connections that are leading to messy situations around the city.

The Assistant Director of the Sewer, Storm Water and Solid Waste Divisions for the city David Sorrell said downspouts and sump pumps add more water to the city’s sewers.

“And that rain water gets in the system and it takes capacity of the pipe and it can be so severe that it causes the pipe to be absolutely full and then causes it to either come up in other people’s homes or come out manholes that overflow into the creek,” Sorrell said.

He said the sewer system is not designed to carry all that additional water. 

“Our system for sewer was designed for sewage, not for storm water. We have a separate system in town that supposed to convey run-off to the creeks,” Sorrell said.

According to a report presented to the City Council on September 21, the city inspected 3,665 buildings in the downtown area and 326 were found to have illegal connections. That’s 8.9% of the buildings.

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said inspectors typically find illegal connections in older buildings.

In the report, two methods of inspecting buildings to find illegal connections were presented.

The first method is called the Point of Sale program. This method involves inspectors going into homes when they are sold to inspect for illegal sewer connections at the home owners expense.

St. Romaine said he thinks this method isn’t very efficient because a lot of homes may not ever be tested.

“One is the fact that you have to wait for the sale of the home to go in and actually do the inspections, so depending on how often homes turn over within the community, you know some people live in their homes for 15 to 20 years so we may never get to inspect that home,” St. Romaine said.

The other method involves all rental properties to be inspected every three years at the landlords expense.

St. Romaine said 50 to 60 percent of the homes in Columbia are rentals and to have a program to check them every three years would be the fastest way to eliminate illegal connections. 

“We got to kind of start moving the needle on some of these. We haven’t really been doing as much as we could do and I think some of the low-hanging fruit right now would probably be some of our rental homes that we have in our rental home inspection program,” St. Romaine said.

He said the only consequence home owners have if an illegal connection is found is to help the city pay to eliminate the illegal connection and move it to its proper location.

“I think once people understand that these are illegal connections and the reason why they’re illegal, it’s basically overloading our sewer system, I think most people understand,” St. Romaine said. “It’s really a question of some of the older homes and I say I think a lot of the home owners that have purchased homes over the last few years, unless somebody made the aware of the fact they had a gutter or a sump pump hooked up to the sewer system, they probably wouldn’t even know it.”

St. Romaine said the City Council has not approved either method yet but will start moving toward implementing the rental home inspections.