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Flooding: Steps you can take to Protect Your Property

Private Drains (laterals) and the Property Owner's Responsibilities

Many residents do not realize the importance of maintaining what is known as the private drain.




The private drain, or lateral, is the connection from your property to the main sewer. The drain is usually connected to the city's main sewer in the middle of the street and carries waste materials from your home or apartment to the main sewer. People often believe that the city takes care of this connection. However, care and maintenance of the private drain - from your home to where it connects to the main sewer - are the property owner's responsibility.

Sewage back ups in your basement can be reduced by keeping the private drain clear of tree roots, grease and other materials and by repairing broken private drains.

A licensed plumbing contractor can inspect your private drain and either clean it or make repairs.


You should have your private drain inspected regularly. The private catch basin on you property should also be inspected and cleaned regularly.

How to Floodproof your Basement

Despite the best efforts of the Department of Public Services to alleviate basement and street flooding, some rain storms will strain the sewer system and cause problems for some property owners.

This portion deals with basement floodproofing devices that you the property owner can have installed. Most of these items require the use of a licensed, professional plumbing contractor.

Before having any work done on your plumbing system, get a number of estimates from different contractors.

After reading the following descriptions, you should be better able to consult with a plumbing contractor about which device best suits your needs.

Overhead Sewers

The overhead sewer system diverts sewage from plumbing fixtures on the first and higher floors to a new sewer line run above the basement floor. This line is connected, either in the basement or outside the foundation, to the original house sewer as it leaves the building.

The old sewer system is sealed. Any drainage from the basement level is pumped up into the overhead sewer.

This system is probably the most effective, but also the most expensive. Power outages will cause pumps to fail but upstairs plumbing fixtures may still be used. Only basement plumbing fixtures cannot be used.


Valves use a gate-like device to keep water from backing up into your basement. There are a number of types of valves.

1. A simple, hand-operated gate valve installed in the private drain can prevent back flow from the main sewer if the valve is closed before themain sewer backs up. The disadvantage with this valve is that it must be closed manually and you cannot use your sewer system until the valve is opened again.

2. An automatic back up (check) valve closes as soon as water begins to flow up the private drain from the main sewer.

3. The combination automatic backwater valve and a sewage ejector pump are another option. This unit operates when the backwater valve closes and plumbing fixtures, etc., build up to a level behind the valve that activates the ejector pump. The pump is able to pump water against the pressure of the sewer backwater.

The advantages of these valves include:

  • no pressure build up under the basement floor or in the drain system;

  • no dangerous pipes sticking out of the floor;

  • basic flood relief.


However, in the case of the hand-operated valve, someone must be home to close it. Also, the gates of the automatic and combination automatic sewage ejector need to be frequently checked to ensure they are not being blocked by debris.

Any of these systemsmust be installed by a licensed plumbing contractor. A permit is required and a plan of the work must be submitted to the Department of Building & Zoning for approval.


Standpipes are lengths of pipe open at the top and screwed into the basement floor. They hold sewer overflow until it recedes. Standpipes are generally inexpensive, easy to install and do not require a permit. They also help relieve pressure caused by back ups.

However, using standpipes over 12 inches tall or capping a standpipe may rupture sewer pipe joints under the basement floor. Also, the protruding pipes may be tripped over and basement floor drains cannot be used until standpipes are removed.


Plugs are plastic or metal devices fitted into floor drains to prevent water back-up. They are not useful if you expect over 3-4 inches of flood water.

Plugs are generally inexpensive, easy to install, do not require a permit and can be installed flush with the basement floor. Do not use plugs if you expect flooding to exceed 3-4 inches. Severe flooding may cause ruptured pipes or cracking in the basement floor. Plugs must be removed to restore drainage.

Other Ways to Help Alleviate Minor Flooding

Here are additional tips to help prevent minor flooding.

  • NEVER dump anything into street or alley sewers. Leaves, grass clippings, motor oil and other items pose a hazard to people working in the sewers.

  • Make sure that curbside gutter boxes are not covered by trash, leaves, papers or other items. When these structures are blocked, water cannot drain from the street and will cause street flooding.

  • Clean you private drain and catch basin regularly. Also have them inspected at least once a year.

  • For general information about the sewer system, call the Department of Public Services at (618) 251-3122, Monday through Friday between 8:30am and 4:30pm.