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Sewer Backups and Flooding

When your drains or sewers give you trouble, you want immediate help, but it can be hard to know who to call.  These questions and answers are intended to help you figure out where the problem is and how to get help as soon as possible.  You can also download a PDF of the Residential Flooding brochure to learn what to do in case of a sewer backup or storm-related flood.

 

When should I call the City of Tacoma?

Call Wastewater Management immediately if sewage is coming up inside your home when you are not using water.  Wastewater crews will check the City sewer system serving your area and send a maintenance crew if needed.  The crew will notify you of the results as soon as possible.  City crews are responsible for maintaining the main sewer lines and the connection to your side sewers (generally located in the street or City right-of-way), but not the side sewers themselves.  Homeowners are responsible for side sewer maintenance and replacement.  City maintenance crews are available 24 hours a day at (253) 591-5585.

When should I call a private service?

Call a private service if you have a slow drainage or you suspect a blockage.  The problem is likely in your side sewer line.  If, however, the service provider is unable to unblock the line and you still are having problems with your sewer system, call (253) 591-5585 before you incur any more expense.

Side sewer diagramWhat is a side sewer?

The side sewer, also known as a lateral sewer, carries waste from your home toilets and drains to the City's main sewer line, where it continues to a wastewater treatment plant.  Most homeowners experience sewer problems in the side sewer line, which they are responsible for maintaining and repairing.  See a side sewer diagram to better understand how your side sewer connects to the City's main sewer line.

How do I know where my side sewer is located?

To see how the side sewer connects to the City's main sewer line, check out the side sewer diagram. 

To find out about your house specifically, check your house plans,  ask the previous owner or search the City's permit records in the Permit Information section of GovMe. For step-by-step instructions, download View and Print Side Sewer Inspection Cards.

The City has more information about homes built after 1950 and only of work done with permits.

If you need assistance locating your side sewer, call Environmental Services at (253) 591-5588.

Which private sewer company should I call?

Companies offer a full range of services, including unblocking, repairing and replacing lines or pipe, but some specialize only in certain areas.  Make sure to ask which services are provided.  Ask friends and relatives for recommendations.  You also may check with the Better Business Bureau at (206) 431-2222 to find reputable companies.  All repairs performed in the City right-of-way, even if they're on part of your private side sewer system, must be done by a contractor licensed and bonded to work in Tacoma.  You may find them listed in telephone directories under "Sewer Contractor." Since companies offer a wide range of prices, it's a good idea to get at least three written bids before choosing a company.
  • Rooter services unclog plumbing and private side sewers using water pressure or mechanical "snakes." Make sure the rooter service's snake cable is long enough to reach from your side sewer to the City's main sewer line (typically located underneath the street or alley).  Rooter companies also might repair and/or replace side sewers.
  • Side sewer contractors repair and/or replace structural problems, such as breaks or holes in side sewers.  Some contractors also might unclog lines.
  • Plumbers repair leaky or broken fixtures and install systems in new construction and remodeling.  If only some of your fixtures are not draining, or if your pipes are leaking, a plumber might be able to remedy the problem.

What questions should I ask the service provider?

We recommend asking the following questions of your service provider and making sure they are answered in writing - legibly - at the time of service.  Have the service provider sign and date the answers.  This step is essential for your protection in case of a future problem with your private service provider.  If you have any doubts or questions, feel free to check with us.Where is the blockage?
If you have your line rootered, have the service provider write down the specific footage where the blockage was found - or at least where the provider thinks it is.  Also have the provider mark the spot on the ground.  This information is helpful in determining if the problem is within the City's area of responsibility.  The mark also can be helpful if you must dig up the pipe to repair it.

What is causing the problem?
Have the service provider write down the probable cause of the blockage.  Identifying the type of blockage is helpful in determining what method should be used to open it, and in determining if regular maintenance of your side sewer is needed to prevent further backups.

Should a TV camera be used to see blockages in my line?
TV cameras generally are not effective in determining what is blocking a line.  They cannot see under water, so if a line is blocked and not draining, the camera won't be able to see inside your pipes.  Camera inspections are most useful after the blockage has been cleared to determine the condition of your pipes and where future problems might turn up.
How do I Fix the Problem Myself
Unclogging a Line
A variety of tools and products can be found at home improvement stores.  Portable rooter machines are available at many rental companies.  You'll need to measure the distance between your side sewer and the main line to determine what size machine to rent.

Repairing or Replacing a Broken or Leaky Side Sewer Line
You may work on your own private sewer system, but you must get a permit from Planning and Development Services so wastewater maintenance crews can inspect work to meet City standards.  Permits, which start at $340.14, are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at Planning and Development Services, 747 Market Street, Room 345, Tacoma, WA 98402.  For more information about permit requirements or how to apply, call (253) 591-5030.

How do I pay for side sewer repairs?

Unexpected repairs can be expensive.  We offer low-interest sewer loans to qualified homeowners and business owners for side sewer repair and replacement.  For more information or to apply for a Sewer Conservation Loan call (253) 591-5763.

What if I have a septic tank?

Get septic tank maintenance tips, or find out how we might be able to help you get connected to the City sewer system.

Can I connect to the City sewer system?

Most property owners in the city are already connected to the City sewer system.  If, however, you are one of the property owners still connected to a septic system, you may check your property's sewer availability.  If your property lies within 200 feet of the public sewer line, you are considered to have sewer available to you.

If you have sewer available to you, the City could give you 50 percent off the hook-up fee to switch from your private septic system to the available sewer system. See if you qualify for this Septic Amnesty Program.

In addition, your costs to build a side sewer system connecting to the City's sewer line may qualify for our low-interest Sewer Conservation Loan Program.

If your question isn't answered here, contact us for more information at (253) 591-5588.