Stop Sewer Backups and Disconnect Downspouts

Many older homes, especially in urban areas, have gutters with downspouts connected directly to the sanitary sewer. Rain water from the roofs drains directly into the sanitary sewer system through these connectors. Because sanitary sewer systems are not designed to convey this excess flow, these downspout connections allow water from rain storms to exceed the capacity of the sewer pipes. When there is too much water for the system, the excess has to go somewhere, so the water and any waste materials in the sewers overflow the system. These sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) end up in somebody’s basement, flows along streets, gutters or ditches, or enters nearby creeks or rivers.

Municipalities have a legal requirement to stop water from overflowing from the sewer system. Even if the water does not overflow the system, connected downspouts still result in the wastewater treatment plant treating extra water for which it was not designed – and the customers must pay for transporting and treating this excess water.

Why Disconnect A Downspout?
Sewage overflows are a potential threat to health and the environment and are costly. Overflows create problems related to:

  • Human health. Raw sewage contains microorganisms that can cause diseases such as hepatitis, giardiasis, and gastroenteritis.
  • Long-term environmental health. Raw sewage in streams and lakes can cause illnesses in fish, kill aquatic life, and make the water unusable for swimming, fishing, and as a drinking water source.
  • Homes. When there is a sewer backup into a house, the homeowner may have to pay the cost to clean up, repair damage, and replace ruined carpets and furniture. Basic homeowner’s insurance often does not cover this damage without an added clause or “rider”.
  • Utility rates. Utilities treat extra water and may have to increase treatment plant size. The utility may also have to pay fines when raw sewage is released to the environment. Higher costs mean higher rates for consumers.

What Can Customers Do?
Customers should check to see whether disconnecting their home’s downspouts can help solve the problem. Disconnection is usually a simple, relatively inexpensive process. The local sewer system authority or public works department should be able to tell whether downspouts are connected to the sanitary sewer, and if so, whether disconnection makes sense. They can also let others know why downspouts should be disconnected and how sewer overflows cost the entire community.