General Sanitary Sewer Information

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Help Prevent Sewer Backups

If you are experiencing a sewer backup, it’s most likely due to a blockage in the sanitary sewer service line between the house and the City’s sewer main.

Sewage backup usually first arises within the sanitary sewer system. If it happens, discharge may appear around the cleanout in your basement. Many materials frequently flushed or poured down the drain can harm the pipes that connect to city sewers as well as the sewer system. Every property owner connected to the sewer system can be a potential contributor to sewer problems, and a potential victim of those same problems.

In order to prevent pipe and sewer blockages and to avoid costly clean-up bills, the only items that should be flushed down your toilet are human waste and toilet paper. 


To control the degree or amount of backup:

  • Stop using your plumbing fixtures until you have the sewer line cleaned out
  • You may choose to call a local plumber or drain cleaner at your own expense or City operators from the Sewer Utility to clean out your sewer
Manhole CoverWhat is the most common cause of sewer blockages and what can I do to prevent them?

Most sewer blockages happen when materials that DO NOT disintegrate are flushed into the sewer system (by way of sink or toilet). In addition these materials often coat the inside of the sewer lines over time, causing blockages that sewage cannot pass through.

“Flushable” wipes combined with Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) and at times roots in sewer pipes and mains cause blockages and damage to private plumbing and City infrastructure. 

These costly problems can be avoided if we all become more mindful of what we are flushing down the sewer and a good start would be to stop the flushing of wipes.

The following is a list of items that should not be flushed down the sewer system. Do not flush these items:

  • Facial tissues (Kleenex)
  • Baby wipes
  • “Flushable” wipes
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand wipes
  • Toilet bowl scrub pads
  • Dusting pads
  • Napkins (paper or cloth)
  • Diapers
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls and cotton swabs
  • Sanitary napkins, tampons, and condoms
  • Dental floss – or any other string items
  • Egg shells, nutshells, coffee grounds (these are much better suited for your compost),
  • Fats Oils and Grease (FOG)
  • Hair and wigs
  • Clothing
  • Plastic of any kind
  • Cigarette butts
  • Medicines or pharmaceuticals, medical sharps (return these to your Pharmacy)
  • Adhesive bandages such as Band Aids or cloth bandages
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Cat litter or deceased pets
  • Paints, varnish, paint thinner, or automotive fluids
  • Poisons and hazardous waste
  • Glass
  • Cell phones
  • Jewelry
  • Garden wastes, wood, sawdust, or shavings
  • Food scraps and bones
  • Broken dishware
  • Toys and game pieces

This is not a complete list but provides examples and can be used as a quick reference when you are deciding whether to flush, toss, recycle or return an item. Download the MyWaste App and the Alberta ChemSafe App to learn more about how to properly dispose of various materials.

 

“Flushable" Wipes
“Flushable” Wipes may swirl down the toilet with ease; however they don't disintegrate and are creating serious problems as they try to work their way through the sewage system.

Some wipes may make it through the lift stations, eventually landing at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, most wipes and other materials are often the cause of sewer backups in City sewers, basements of homes and businesses.

In addition to causing backups, this also damages City equipment. Wastewater Treatment Plants are not designed to accept anything other than human waste and toilet paper. Wipes and other debris flushed down the sewer system become entangled in pumps and equipment within the Lift Stations and Wastewater Treatment Plant. These damaged pumps have to be replaced or repaired, which can increase maintenance costs for the Utility in turn costing rate payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sewer FlushingUnfortunately, although packaging may say wipes are “flushable” - in reality they should not be flushed at all.

Most “flushable” wipes are designed with fibers that take a long time to break down in water. For sewer systems to operate efficiently, the break down process needs to begin immediately. Labeled as a cleaner alternative to toilet paper, the wipes have been estimated to cost Canadian tax payers millions of dollars each year by clogging sewers.

At this time there is no standardized testing for these wipes to make sure they will break down in the sewer system and will not become tangled in lift station pumps or cause blockages in the sewers. With there being no current standard, wipes can claim to be “flushable” when in fact they should not be flushed at all.

What can I do to prevent these problems?
These costly problems can be avoided if we all become more mindful of what we are flushing down the sewer and a good start would be to stop the flushing of wipes.

Fats, Oils & Grease (FOG)
FOG can be comprised of animal fats, vegetable fats, oils and grease used to cook and prepare food. When any type of FOG is washed down the drain, it acts like glue inside the sewer pipes and mains.

Overtime, the buildup of FOG, combined with other debris like food and wipes can block the entire pipe, subsequently causing sewer backup in your home, neighbouring homes or businesses. The damage caused by FOG can be quite serious with the cleanup being costly to both residents and the City.

What can I do to prevent these problems?
  • Avoid pouring FOG down your drain, rather choose to dispose of FOG in the garbage
  • Wipe pans and dishes using paper towel and pour FOG (i.e. turkey fat, bacon grease etc.) into a disposable can or jar until cool
  • Dispose of cooled FOG and saturated paper towels in your household garbage
  • Review the City's Source Control Program page for more information regarding the City's effort to reduce FOG in the sewer system

Root ball cut out of a sewer mainTree Root Blockages
Tree roots can enter at joints, breaks or leaks in the sewer service or main line and cause blockages. If you suspect tree roots are causing sewer backup problems, please contact Environmental Utilities.

If root infiltration is identified, a plan to eliminate or control the root growth should be implemented. Note: The City is responsible for root infiltration on public property piping occurring from public property trees only. If the investigation indicates root infiltration on private property, the homeowner or tenant is responsible.


Sewer Main Backup
On rare occasions, a blockage can occur in the City’s sanitary sewer main. If the blockage is not detected in time, sewage from the sewer main can backup into homes through the cleanout. The rate at which the backup occurs can be slow or rapid but most always occurs without water usage. If you suspect a sewer main backup please contact us at the Sewer Utility.

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