California Sanitation District to Require Lateral Inspections for Older Pipes

District hopes proactive approach saves on sewer overflow costs.  

California Sanitation District to Require Lateral Inspections for Older Pipes

Emanuel Gonzales, service technician for Boden Plumbing, displays the camera that is snaked into household pipes to determine their condition. (Sonoma Index-Tribune photo)

California Sanitation District to Require Lateral Inspections for Older Pipes California Sanitation District to Require Lateral Inspections for Older Pipes

The Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District in California approved an ordinance in mid-January requiring property owners who have sewer laterals at least 30 years old to have them inspected and, if necessary, repaired, to help prevent the sewer overflows and other problems that occur during heavy rains, according to a story in the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Since more than 70 percent of the district’s customers are in homes or businesses over three decades old, it’s bound to be a big project that affects many properties in the Valley. Recognizing the scale of the problem, the district has authorized a loan program to help Sonoma Valley residents pay for inspection, maintenance and repair of sewer laterals. The loan package will allow owners to borrow up to $10,000 from the county for their required repairs, payable over a 10-year period though their property tax bill.

According to the story, many older Sonoma-area homes were built with iron or terra cotta pipes, which over time break down and become infiltrated by roots from nearby trees, or break due to earth movements and slippage.

“Studies in other areas have found that leaky sewer laterals contribute to about 40 percent of the water that comes through the system during rainstorms,” Sonoma County Water Agency Barry Dugan told the Index-Tribune.

On the heels of the ordinance requiring inspection of all laterals 30 years or older, the district is starting a program to check neighborhoods most likely to have flawed laterals – a targeted inspection of some 200 properties a year.

“We know there are locations where these overflows occur when we get heavy rainfall,” says Dugan. “That just happened last week and it happened in December, where we had heavy rainfall and there were a few overflows.”

The inspection program should start in about six months, Dugan said. He noted that of the District’s 10,600 connections, about 7,800 are over 30 years old. “It’s going to take a while to get through the entire inventory of housing,” he said. “But this is one way to approach it incrementally, and make a difference.”

Homeowners will receive notice that the district will be coming onto their property, albeit underground, by means of a sewer video inspection line.

“We’ll notify the property owner once the inspection is done, and let them know the results,” says Dugan. Although a selected contractor will conduct the video inspections in the district’s program, the homeowner is free to choose any plumbing contractor for the repair – or a pre-emptive inspection.

Inspection of a sewer lateral can be done at any time, though it usually follows a clean of a clogged lateral. Boden Plumbing is one of several Sonoma plumbers who currently conduct such video inspection – and who can repair or replace a damaged lateral.

“We use a snake to clean out a clogged lateral, and if there’s roots on the router when it comes up, then we go down there with a camera,” says Terry Boden, of the 25-year old company.

Root-infiltrated pipes can be difficult to completely repair, short of taking out the offending tree or replacing the entire lateral. But several means of pipe replacement are possible.

“There are lots of different avenues to approach different kinds of problems,” says Boden. “There is no black and white, everything’s kind of gray out there.”

Source: Sonoma Index-Tribune

Studies in other areas have found that leaky sewer laterals contribute to about 40 percent of the water that comes through the system during rainstorms.”

Barry Dugan, Sonoma County Water Agency


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