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Rising water highlights possible sewage backup problems

Water that has been treated at the Water Reclamation District rushes into East Canyon Creek. The district is processing 12 million gallons of water a day because of a 'clean water' influx due to the improper use of sump pumps in homes. The facility is set up to process 5 million gallons a day on average.
Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District
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KPCW
Water that has been treated at the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District rushes into East Canyon Creek. The district is processing 12 million gallons of water a day because of a clean water influx due to the improper use of sump pumps in homes. The facility is set up to process 5 million gallons a day on average.

Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District has seen a massive increase in the amount of water in its sewer system in recent days. This is not good. The increase is primarily the result of sump pumps connected incorrectly and illegally.

Sump pump may be the two most spoken words this spring as well as the most sought item at Home Depot. With the historic snowfall and subsequent flooding sump pumps are working overtime to keep homes dry.

But if a sump pump isn’t hooked up correctly, it can get real ugly real fast.

Mike Luers is general manager of the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District. He explained that some people are ill-informed about how a sump pump works. First and foremost, don’t hook it up to the wastewater system. It should be pumped to the back yard or out to the stormwater system.

“But we've had a few people call us and say, ‘Hey, my plumber is installing a sump pump. And he said that by code it has to be connected to the wastewater system.’ Well in fact, that is not correct," Luers said. "International plumbing code and our codes prohibit connecting sump pumps to the wastewater system. And if you do connect them, and bad things happen, you can be held liable for that. And that can be very, very expensive.”

Luers explained it can also be very messy.

“But the real problem is that they overload the system and can cause raw sewage to backup and not only in your home, but your neighbor's home and surrounding businesses.”

The sump pump issue is quickly turning into an emergency according to Luers. The district anticipates the problem will only get worse as groundwater saturation and runoff increase. He says the district is offering help to hopefully avoid localized backups.

“So we're asking people to give us a call, if they think they have a sump pump, we'll come out free of charge and inspect to see if they do in fact have a sump pump, if it's connected to the stormwater system, which is where it's supposed to be connected, or the wastewater sewer system," he said. "And if it's connected to the sewer system, we have a limited time offer where we can give them $1,500 as a financial incentive to help disconnect.”

He also said the district will aggressively pursue fines, penalties, and civil damages if there’s a sewage back up due to an illegal sump pump installation.

The basic penalty is a class B misdemeanor with a fine of $1,000 per violation plus the cost of all damages. As an example, if clean water from a sump pump or other sources, causes raw sewage to back up into someone’s home or business, the liability could be very high, upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In addition, if the clean water from a sump pump causes the treatment plant to fail to meet State and Federal discharge permit requirements, fines could reach $25,000 per day for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Luers explained that the increase in water also has a significant impact on the district’s treatment facilities. It’s designed to handle five million gallons of water a day and currently 12 million gallons of water are running through it. The increase in water causes disruptions in micro-organisms that the district’s treatment process utilizes to clean wastewater.

“The little bit of extra water in a system, say it seeps in through manhole covers, we can handle that, but when 65% of it is being pumped in from downspouts and sump pumps, that becomes a real problem, and our operating staff are working overtime to correctly operate the system, it becomes very problematic. And, it's something that we really want to avoid.”

That’s because the wastewater that the district cleans is then discharged into local streams. If it’s not properly treated due to too much ‘clean water’ entering the system, the local environment could be negatively impacted.