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Mid-Missouri dealing with sewer backups during rain

Katrina Boles thought she was just ridding her basement of water for several years after a heavy rain.

In 2014, a downpour sent water pouring back through the drains in her basement. The water sat in her and her neighbors backyards while it bubbled into their homes, damaging and destroying Boles’ belongings. City staff seemed dismissive to her calls about the encroaching water, until she told them about one point of entry.

“It started coming out of the toilet like a waterfall,” Boles said.

Boles lives on Again Street, a central city neighborhood plagued with flooding issues. Homes built in the 1950’s in the low-lying area now experience flooding from both rushing rain waters and infiltration of that water from the storm pipes to the sanitary sewer lines. A public hearing on April 17 will discuss demolition of two homes, one on Again Street and its northern neighbor on Worley Street. Utilities staff members believe the additional space will better manage the overflow of rain water, and will allow them better access to the sewer and storm water pipes underground.

Thirty minutes north, a family in Fayette filed a lawsuit over the same issue to that city. Myles and Samantha Chew sued after several instances of “infiltration and inflow” dating back to 2014. According to the suit, the city admitted to the infiltration problem. The raw sewage backup caused “substantial damage to their personal property and clean up expenses,” the lawsuit said.

The city of Fayette did not respond to a request for comment on the issue Wednesday night.

Boles said cleaning her basement that night in 2014 cost $5,000. Installing a grinder pump to stop water from coming into her basement cost another $10,000. She became more involved in the discussion about infrastructure in Columbia after her own experience. She was a member of Mayor Bob McDavid’s infrastructure task force in 2015 and 2016, learning about what it would take to fix the issue fully.

Boles said the storm water utility desperately needs better funding to allow staff to get to the projects in need of fixing. Voters approved a gradual increase of the monthly charge to utility payers in 2015.

Boles said often times, though, homeowners are left on the hook to pay for any sewer backups. Some older homes have rain gutters or other storm drains connected directly to the sewer line, which is now illegal. However, without knowledge of all of these connections, the city cannot find which homes are causing problems along the sewer trunk. It has recently partnered with Trekk Design Group to help them find these connections.

Assistant Director of Utilities David Sorrell said they have received no reports of sewage backups in the recent round of rain. Rehabilitating some century-old sewer lines has also helped them stop sewer backups.

“A combination of the rehabilitation work, work performed by city staff and modifications to pumps and operating procedures at the [Wastewater Treatment Plant] have resulted in a significant reduction in sewer overflows due to inflow and infiltration,” Sorrell said.

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