Sewer Backups

Dealing with Sewer Back-ups

The City of South Milwaukee Wastewater Treatment Facility is dedicated to doing all we can to help residents in the event of a sewer backup. The city has a crew whose duty is to clean, inspect, and maintain the sewer collection system. We strive to clean the entire system every 3 to 4 years and we have a number of spots that we attend to monthly. This crew is available 24 hours a day to minimize the possibility of sewer problems. Unfortunately, a sewer is an open system and things can enter it that can cause clogs and backups. Although the city has rules and guidelines to reduce clog-causing substances from entering the sewers there is no absolute way to prevent this from happening, and sometimes backups occur. The following information is provided to help you deal with, and help prevent, sewer backups in your home or place of business.

Sewer Service Line

Where can a back-up occur? 

A sewer backup is caused by an obstruction in either the main sewer line or in the sewer lateral. The main sewer line is the pipe that the city owns and maintains and is usually located under the street. The sewer lateral is the pipe that runs from your building and connects to the main sewer line. The lateral and the connection are owned and maintained by the property owner, including any part that may extend into the street or public right of way. 

What Causes a Back-up? Sewer backups are usually caused by items in the sewers that don’t belong there. In the main sewer line, grease, grit, roots and other solids can sometimes build up and create a problem. Occasionally, items are placed in sewers by vandals or inadvertently left in the line as a result of construction. A collapse of the pipes, themselves is also a cause of backups. We strive to clean the entire collection system every year. This cleaning includes using a root cutter to remove roots from the sewer in areas where this is a problem. We also have about 50 chronic trouble spots that we attend to every month. Sewer laterals can also clog and cause a backup. Just as with the main line, the clogs are usually from things that don’t belong in the sewer. Items such as kid’s toys, underwear, towels, diapers, paper products (other than toilet paper), keys, and even false teeth have been found in the sewer lines. To avoid flushing these items, remember to close your toilet lid. What goes down your toilet may not affect you, but may get into the main line and cause problems for your neighbors. Remember, cleaning and maintenance of the sewer lateral is the responsibility of the property owner. 

Who should I contact? 

If you experience a sewer problem, please call the South Milwaukee Wastewater Treatment Facility at 768-8180 and state that you are reporting a sewer emergency. Backed up sewer lines, line breaks, sewage odors, overflowing manholes, and missing manhole covers or grates are all considered emergencies. We have people on call 24 hours a day to respond to these calls. If you are experiencing a backup, our people will come out as soon as possible and check the main sewer line and inform you of our findings. Remember to call the Wastewater Facility first. If the problem is not in the main line, but in your lateral, you will be advised to call a plumber or sewer cleaning service. Check the Yellow pages or Business White Pages for these services. The City of South Milwaukee cannot make a recommendation. It may be in your best interests to obtain several estimates. 

Ways to prevent back-ups

The property owner can do may things to help prevent backups. Anything you do to keep your lateral clear may also help keep the main sewer line clear, saving everyone money and misery.   

  • Grease - Cooking oil and grease should be poured in a heat resistant container and disposed of in the garbage. Washing them down the drain with hot water only makes them flow into the sewer before they cool and harden, causing a clog.  
  • Paper Products - Paper towels, disposable diapers, and feminine products can cause a great deal pf problems in the sewers. These items can get caught on parts of the sewer and they do not deteriorate quickly, like toilet tissue does. These item should be disposed of in the garbage.  
  • Roots -  Roots from shrubs and trees seeking moisture can make their way into cracks in sewer lines and cause clogs and damage. Be mindful of planting trees near your lateral. If you have root problems in your lateral, you may need to have a service cut them out. There are also chemical products available that go down the drain and discourage root growth in your lateral. See your plumber for more information.  
  • Needles - Hypodermic needles pose problems for the sewer lines and hazards for the wastewater employees. Needles should be put in a rigid plastic bottle, like a bleach bottle, and securely taped shut. Contact your pharmacy for proper disposal methods. Please do not flush them or throw them in the garbage!!