Protecting Your Laterals
"A Potentially Serious Environmental Problem Arises When Laterals Become Leaky"
Unless you've suffered through the distress of seriously clogged drains or a sewage backup into your home, the last thing you probably ever think about is your lateral – the underground pipe in your yard that carries wastewater from your house to the Sanitary District sewer line under the street. Out of sight, out of mind. Please be aware that:
- You own the entire lateral from the house to the point of connection to the Sanitary District sewer, not just to the sidewalk or curb.
- You are responsible for your lateral's maintenance and good working order.
A potentially serious environmental problem arises when laterals become leaky from cracks due to age or encroaching tree roots. In heavy rainstorms, rainwater leaks into the lateral and a high volume of extra water flows into the Sanitary District sewer system.
Multiply one leaky lateral by perhaps thousands, and all that additional water can overwhelm the Sanitary District Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Plant cannot adequately process the dramatically increased wastewater flows. This in turn can lead to fouling of the environment.
If the Sanitary District gets fined for the violation, who pays? Ultimately, every ratepayer in the District.
Water in the ground leaking into the pipe is defined as infiltration. Rainwater getting into the sewer system up on the surface is called inflow. The latter occurs for example when a resident illegally hooks his roof drain to the sewer or opens a lateral cleanout to reduce standing water. (Remember: in California, unlike back east, sewer systems and storm drains are separate entities, and the sanitary sewer system is not designed to handle storm water.)
Regardless of the source, infiltration or inflow, the effect is the same: potential harm to the environment.
Over the last two decades, the Ojai Valley Sanitary District has aggressively repaired and replaced sewer pipes in its system to reduce leaks and infiltration.
The District maintains a preventive maintenance schedule that routinely and consistently cleans the system. So now, in heavy rainstorms, it's becoming clear that the remaining primary source of excess wastewater flow is leaky residential laterals.
But which ones and where? The District has invested in new technology to monitor wastewater flow in its system. Portable flow meters can be moved around the collection system to identify areas of excess flow. Narrowing down the problem area will eventually enable the District, using video inspection, to locate the laterals that are leaking and discuss the problem with the homeowners.
Leaky laterals are most likely in high groundwater areas and older residential areas.