Sewage seeps into homes after heavy rain downpour

“Everyone was notified of the smoke test but nothing really came of it.” - Teri Underhill

One of the last things a homeowner wants to deal with is flooding in their home.

What’s worse is if the flooding involves raw sewage.

That happened to Teri Underhill at her home at 61 Avenue near 59 Street in the early morning hours of Aug. 12. She received a call from a neighbour that their basement was flooding with sewage and advised her to check the basement.

At least six inches deep of waste was flowing into her home through the water drain and the basement bathtub. More than two inches of rain fell in an hour that evening.

Underhill believes work conducted in the spring may have been a factor in the sewage backup in her home. Smoke tests were done in the sewage lines on 59 Street and 62 Avenue in March as staff with Ponoka public works believed some homes had crossed water and sewer lines. Mike Lewis, former director of operations and property services, organized the tests.

After determining two homes on those streets did actually have crossed lines, an air pig was installed in a manhole on 59 Street to prevent sewage from entering the Battle River. An air pig is used to block the pipe and is filled with air. That decision may have been a catalyst in sewage flooding Underhill’s basement and has left her frustrated.

She called CAO Brad Watson to help with the issue and was told of the crossed lines. This concerned her as she worried the problem would return again in a heavy downpour. “Is this going to be me as a homeowner’s problem?”

Underhill received advice from friends who deal with water and sewer who said the air pig may have caused the flooding. She does not believe those homeowners who had their sewer connected to the storm line were notified.

“Everyone was notified of the smoke test but nothing really came of it,” she said.

It is believed the air pig was a temporary solution until the town had an opportunity to deal with contractors and plumbers for the homes but as Lewis has since resigned, town staff are uncertain what exactly happened. Underhill claims in a telephone conversation with Watson that he stated the air pig was removed.

She said she questioned him further and he then called back to say the air pig was not removed. This is another concern for her with insurance.

“I know that if it rains again, it (sewage backup) will happen again,” said Underhill.

If there is another heavy downpour of rain she believes sewage will once again come into the basement.

“And not only that, my neighbours are at risk.”

Town staff have installed a plug where the lines open to the homes and in cases of heavy rain a vac truck has been brought in to deal with any overflow.

But Underhill questions the purpose behind putting in an air pig without further communication to residents.

“It shouldn’t happen five months later,” she said. “(Homeowners) never had confirmation from the town.”

She has damage exceeding $30,000 but some homeowners have damage exceeding $100,000. Underhill credits public works staff for attempting to mitigate issues and keep residents informed.

Town councillors have only recently received details of this problem through a petition signed by homeowners and councillors voiced their concerns to town administration Aug. 27 during a regular meeting.

Watson was away and Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services explained the situation.

“We did have a meeting with our insurance carrier last week,” said Quinlan.

Four claims have been received from homeowners but she was unaware of the petition. Coun. Rick Bonnett was asked by residents why they were not notified of the issue. “Most of them said they didn’t even know there was an issue.”

Quinlan was unsure. “I don’t know why.”

Bonnett feels the town will be on the hook for the insurance claims as there was no communication to residents. Coun. Loanna Gulka is upset there was no communication between administration and council.

“I guess this raises a huge red flag for me…Our residents say we’re not communicating with them. It doesn’t seem to matter what the problem (is).”

“We were informed of this at the last council meeting. It was brushed off as all minor flooding, minor damage. According to these people, it’s not minor,” she added.

Her biggest concern is keeping residents informed of the challenges the town is facing. A letter to affected residents was being drafted more than two weeks after the incident. The cross-connections found out in March appear to not have been communicated to homeowners at all, says Quinlan.

Coun. Doug Gill says the town was trying to do its part in dealing with environmental issues with Alberta Environment and effluent going into the Battle River. “That’s our problem and we took steps to correct it.”

Bonnett added homeowners should have received some form of notification from the town but they may also need to speak with the construction companies and plumbers who built the homes.

The Town of Ponoka’s insurance company and the homeowners’ are investigating the cause of the sewage flooding the homes.