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    Q1 – What should I do if I think I have sewage in my basement?

    STOP using all water and CHECK your basement for the Color, Odor and Movement of the water.


    Clear: The backup is possibly due to water infiltration (groundwater). If we have had rain lately, if the groundwater level is high or even if someone has left a hose running for an extended period of time - water might be coming in from an open window or a crack in your basement walls or floor. Check your basement and the outside perimeter of your house to make sure this is not the problem. Check your sump-pump to make sure it is functioning properly.

    Gray/Black: The backup may be sewer related and further investigation into the system needs to take place.


    None: The backup is probably due to infiltration (see color: Clear section above.)

    Soapy: A drain in your home is not allowing the water from your shower, dishwasher, laundry or toilet to exit the home, possibly causing the backup.

    Sewage: The backup is possibly due to a drain in your home not allowing water to exit, whether the lateral pipe that leads your wastewater into the City’s Main sewer line or a backup in the City’s Main sewer line that is causing the sewage to come into your home.


    Stable level: The backup is possibly due to a drain in your home not allowing water to exit. There may be a clogged lateral pipe leading to the City’s Main sewer line, a failed sump pump or a plumbing problem within your home. You can check this yourself or you can secure someone, such as a professional sewer cleaner or plumber, to take care of it for you.

    Slightly decreasing water level: The backup is probably due to a blockage in the drains of your home; check and see if there are any blockages that you can remove yourself.

    Rapidly increasing water level: The backup is probably due to a blockage or overwhelmed City Main sewer.

    GRAY + SEWAGE SMELL + RAPIDLY INCREASING WATER LEVELCall the City's 24 hour sewer maintenance number 456-3246. The city will inspect the sanitary sewer, rectify any problem with our system and advise you to the status.


    Q2 – In regard to the homeowners lateral connection to the sanitary sewer, where does the property owner’s responsibility stop and the City’s responsibility start?

    Homeowners own their lateral! The homeowner’s responsibility is to maintain and clean their lateral of obstructions from their home all the way to the City main. The City is responsible only when the lateral is broken or root bound (preventing sewer service) from the City right of way to the City main. Further assistance or guidance can be given by contacting the City’s 24 hour Sewer Maintenance phone number 456-3246.

    Q3 – I see a large truck with a big round tank on it. The truck also has a large tube in the front of it and is quite noisy. What are they doing?

    This equipment is used to clean the sanitary and storm water sewer systems. Cleaning is done on a regular basis, so that the systems will continue to perform as designed. This preventative maintenance is a proactive way to prevent major issues that could occur later in time.

    Q4 – Why does it smell and/or my toilet gurgles in my house when you perform maintenance with those large trucks on the sanitary sewer system?

    The pressurized water hoses we use are to clean the main sanitary sewer pipes and prevent serious backup problems. However, the same pressure may push air and materials back into your home. The causes for this are many; from how your home is vented to how your lateral sets into the City main. It is an unfortunate yet temporary side effect of maintaining the City sewers.

    Q5 – Who do I call to clean my sanitary sewer lateral? Does the City recommend anyone?

    You can call a professional sewer cleaning company or a plumber (check your local Yellow Pages, under Sewer Cleaner or Plumber) that is equipped to perform sewer cleaning. While the City cannot recommend any particular company, here are a few helpful suggestions.

    1. Ask for proof of liability insurance. 
    2. Check for warranty or guarantee on any services as they vary from 30 days to a few years.
    3. Ask family, friends, or neighbors for recommendations. 
    4. Ask for pricing (quote). If possible, get more than one.
    5. Consult the Better Business Bureau for quality businesses.
    6. Determine whether or not you need a licensed plumber. 
    Q6 - If the problem calls for a repair/dig-up on my property, what should I do?
    Make sure a licensed/insured contractor is doing the work, and the following steps have been taken:
    1. Confirm that Miss Dig has been called prior to any work.
    2. Ensure that a permit has been issued from your City’s building department.
    3. Get a copy of the televised inspection (DVD) with exact cause of the problem (i.e. roots, collapse, etc.).
    4. Always get more than one quote and warranty/guarantee information.
    Q7 - How often does the City clean the sanitary sewers?

    The City cleans all of the systems pipelines that are fifteen inches and smaller in diameter (4,478,535 feet total!) at least once every five years.

    Q8 – Is there anything I can do to avoid having problems with my sanitary sewer lateral?

    One thing homeowners can do to help keep their lateral trouble free, is properly dispose of grease. Grease should be disposed in your refuse, never your sinks or toilets.

    Q9 – I am planning to winterize my swimming pool. Where can I pump the water?

    You may pump it to the storm drain in the street ONLY if you de-chlorinate it first. For additionnal details contact the Stormwater Project Engineer at 456-3057.

    Q10 – I am experiencing a foul/sewage smell in my basement, what can I do?

    Run water down all your drains to insure that the traps are full of water. You should also check for any cleanout caps that are off or missing inside your home. If you have a toilet in your basement, make sure that the wax seal around the base is in good condition.

    Q11 - Where can I dispose of my leftover paint?

    If your paint is latex you may leave the lid off the can, dry it out and place it in the household trash. If the paint is oil base, you can drop it off at the Kent County Household Hazardous Waste collection site for proper disposal, for no charge.

    Q12 - I have an "easement" through my backyard. What does that mean?

    An easement is the legal "permission" the City has to cross or gain entry to private property. An easement is written with specific language on what our rights and responsibilities are, many times, it is for "the passage of surface water", or "to maintain underground piping."

    Q13– Does my sewer bill cover the catch basins in the street?

    The water/sewer bill you pay every three months covers the cost of the water you use in your home and the wastewater you send out of your home.

    The budgeted money for maintenance of storm sewers in the street comes from the City's General Fund. This is the fund that you pay with your property taxes. The General Fund is also the same fund that pays for Fire and Police protection.

    Q14 – What do I do if our street floods during a heavy rain event?

    You can be proactive and attempt to clear debris off the top of catch basins (storm drains that are located on the side of the street). Clearing the catch basins would allow water to flow into the drains, which is the desired result. However, if there is a lot of rain in a short span of time, it may be more than the system is designed to handle and it may take more time to drain the rain water from the street. If the street does not drain over time, or if water comes into your home, please call the City’s 24 hour sewer maintenance number 456-3246.

    Q15 - I've seen neighbors dumping stuff down one of the sewer grates in the curb. Is this OK to do?

    NO, in fact, it is illegal to dump anything other than rainwater into a City Storm Sewer.

    Many people think that all drains go to the Wastewater Treatment Plant. NOT all drains go to the Wastewater Treatment Plant; many storm drains go directly to the watershed, untreated.

    Used oil, latex paint, cleaning fluids, carpet cleaning wash water, these are all prohibited from entering storm sewers. Anyone seeing this activity is encouraged to call the WWTP (Industrial Pretreatment (IPP)) and make an anonymous report.

    IPP can be reached at 456-3260 or 456-3117.

    Q16- When I wash clothes in my laundry room, sometimes I can smell a stale sewage smell. How can I get rid of this odor and where is it coming from?

    It is possible that your washing machine is not pumping out all of the water from your machine; depending on how your discharge hose is routed you could have stale water leftover in your machine creating these odors. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to remove wash water from the machine using a “pump out” cycle. If necessary; add a gallon of fresh water to the machine prior to running the “pump out” cycle.

    Q17 - Sometimes when we are sitting out on the front porch, we can smell a foul odor in the neighborhood. Who should we call?

    Before calling for assistance, write down your observations each time you notice the smell. These should include the date, time and wind direction. Also provide a description of the smell such as how it compares to other common odors. If your neighbors also notice the smell, note that in your observations. After gathering a few days of information call the ESD @ 456-3625 and we will evaluate the situation and help suggest a solution.

    Q18 - We are cleaning out our medicine cabinet and have expired and leftover medicines. Can we flush them down the drain?

    NO! Recent studies show that trace amounts of medicines are showing up in our environment. Since wastewater facilities are not designed to treat or remove such complex compounds, they pass through and enter our lakes, rivers and streams. Contact your local pharmacy or look on our web at or for a medicine take back program.

    Q19 - How can I dispose of a thermometer that contains mercury?

    You should exchange or dispose of any mercury thermometers that you find. The Kent County household hazardous waste program accepts thermometers. They will also accept batteries and thermostats that contain mercury. For more info look them up at

    Q20 – In our office building, when the heat or air conditioner starts up we experience a nauseating sewage smell. What can we do to eliminate this odor?

    Pour water into all sink and floor drains to make sure traps are full of liquid. Also make sure that your wax seals around the toilets are good. Find out where the air intake is for your heating and air conditioning unit. If the air intake vent is located on the roof, it could be located too close to the sewer vent pipe and occasionally pull in fumes when the wind is calm. Also check for new construction that may have left open or broken pipes.

    Q21 - Our group holds fund raisers that sell fish dinners, how do we dispose of the used grease?

    DO NOT dispose any grease down the drain. The grease will cool down as it flows through the pipes. It will solidify and block the pipe. Contact a few local restaurants; many recycle their used frying oil. If you cannot find a business to take your used oil cool it down, carefully pour it in a sturdy, sealable container, and place in the garbage with the household trash.

    Q22 - Our drains work very slow ...what’s going on?

    It could be a number of things. Disposable does not mean flushable. By monitoring what goes down the drain, you can save money and headaches by preventing backups in your home. Wipes, diapers, Q-tips and similar items should not be flushed down the toilet, instead dispose of them in the household trash.

    Q23 – What do I do if a manhole cover or basin grate is off or missing?

    Please call the City’s 24 hour sewer maintenance number 456-3246 immediately! Do not attempt to move or replace the cover or grate on your own. If you have safety or traffic concerns, you can also contact the Grand Rapids Police Department or 911.