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Topeka residents continue to deal with damage from late July rainstorms

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:18 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As heavy rains hit a neighborhood  8th and MacVicar on Thursday, July 30, Cindy Chilson said she was going about her normal routine when she heard the dreaded sound of running water and said she found an unthinkable site in her basement.

"What was there? It was brown water it was coming up from my toilet out of my toilet like old faithful coming out of my shower like old faithful"

About 19 inches in sewer water came up through Chilson’s pipes and caused more than 15 thousand dollars worth of damage. 

Restore technician Lacie Smith said the nature of Chilson’s damage labels it as a category 3 , when property cannot be salvaged. 

“Anything with a sump pump, outside water, feces, whatnot that’s automatically a category 3,” Smith said.

Chilson told us several neighbors had issues, too, like washers and dryers floating in their basements and some had memorabilia dating back to the 1940s. 

When she called the city to report the issue, she was asked if her system was the source of all the problems.

Chilson said when she called the city they asked if her system was the source of the all the problems. 

"Some of them had at least four or five feet in their basement and you're telling me my sewer was the problem? No." 

However, neighbors told Chilson they were told something was wrong in the city’s system.

Once it was looked at, the water soon stopped.

"By golly once that was turned on water receded from the basement in minutes and if it was turned on in the first place we wouldn't've had that problem we wouldn't've had water and sewage in our basement."  

Now Chilson is looking for the city to say they are sorry about what residents had to go through.

"Where is the public apology saying I'm sorry this happened?  We will do more due dilligence to check and make sure those valves are turned on that this doesn't happen again." 

Chilson said she had a furnished basement and lost a lot of her own memorabilia. 

Insurance will not cover the cost of Chilson’s damage. 

The City of Topeka declined to speak on camera about the incident but answered questions in the statement below:

Is the City responsible for sewage?

The City of Topeka Utilities Department is responsible for the collection and treatment of wastewater, as well as, operating and maintaining the wastewater and stormwater systems’ infrastructure.

Overall, during the three day rain event last week, the City’s infrastructure system operated as it was designed and there was no impact from the flood control system that led to the impact the homeowners in question experienced.

Are we responsible for sewage backups?

The cause of these backups was not due the any negligence on the City’s behalf. The City experienced several intense rain events over the course of three days which taxed the infrastructure system, which is not designed to handle rain events of that magnitude (similar to the rain events in 2007 which led to flooding in several areas of Topeka at the time).

The City is only responsible for sewage backups if evidence can be shown that the City was negligent.

We are responsible for the routine inspection and maintenance of the system.

Why did this happen in this neighborhood?

The very intense storm system that hit Topeka surcharged the wastewater and stormwater systems and saturated the ground throughout the City. This led to inflow and infiltration (I&I) of stormwater into the sanitary system. This occurs through cracks in the vitrified clay pipe which is common in older parts of town, root intrusion, inflow through brick manholes and improper connections to the sanitary sewer system such as roof drains.

The resident says this also happened in 2007 was nothing done to prevent it from happening in between now and then?

1. What could the City do to prevent this?

Based on our research, the storm and sanitary systems functioned as expected during these intense rain events.

Is the City required to do anything?

The City has an ongoing, robust maintenance program to televise and clean the sanitary sewer lines. During the rain event, the City had multiple crews working around the clock responding to high water calls and backups across the City. While the system was inundated, crews still inspected manholes to ensure that even though the lines may have been full, they were still flowing. In some cases where the lines appeared to not to have flow, they took corrective action to get the system flowing again (emergency sewer main repairs).

The storm sewer system is designed to handle a 10 year rain event. Some of the intense storms exceeded this capacity. As mentioned above, the heavy rains contributed to the surcharge of the sanitary system.

How many houses has this affected? We’re hearing 20-30 houses?

We don’t have any way of knowing exactly how many homes were impacted by this incident?

We have had approximately 12 reported incidents in this area, but many more throughout the City.

We had several stormwater calls at the same time in this area.

What can residents do in an event like this?

During the event, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to stop the flow of wastewater. However, the homeowner can proactively have a plumber inspect their private sewer service lines to ensure they are intact, don’t have root intrusion or blockages, and that the connection to the City’s sewer main is not cracked or separated, which would contribute to I & I. Homeowners may opt to install what is known as a backwater valve to their private sewer line which would help prevent this type of issue. They should consult a professional plumber before doing so.

Additional Information:

Unfortunately at this time staff is busy catching up from last week’s rain events. The City has committed to inspecting every call that came in during that time to determine if any corrective action needs to be taken. The City has a stormwater master plan project it is implementing to study the stormwater system and determine where improvements could be made to help alleviate some of the flooding in certain areas of town. The City also has a program that lines the inside of sewer pipes to help prevent I&I, as well as a replacement program to replace failing infrastructure.

If residents continue to experience problems or have a backup that they would like to report, they should call 368-3111.

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