Water running down sink drain

Is Your Sewer Backed Up?

Where can I get help?

If you are connected to a public sewer and have a backup, here’s what you should do:

  • Call the plumbing contractor you have chosen from the list of District Licensed/Bonded Contractors
  • The bonded plumber will check the main line and report directly to the District if there is a full main. When this happens, the plumber will not charge the resident for responding to a call. The District pays the plumber for finding and reporting these issues.
  • If the main line is not the problem, the plumber will be able to clean the service line effectively 99% of the time. This service and the costs involved are the resident’s responsibility. If the plumber is unable to clear the service, he/she will call the District to come assist. The plumber must come first.
  • After you have called the plumber, call the District sewer backup line at 815-387-7600. Your call will be answered any time of the day or night.

Sewer Cleaning Voucher Available

For single family homes and duplexes, homeowners are eligible for a $25.00 voucher once every 2 years when using a Rock River Water Reclamation District licensed/bonded plumbing contractor for either routine cleaning or to remove a service pipe blockage. You may use any plumbing contractor you choose, but the voucher will only be given if using a District licensed/bonded plumbing contractor.  These District Licensed/Bonded Contractors provide the discount to the resident at the time of service.

To report a sewer backup, contact the Rock River Water Reclamation District Supporting Services Department, at 815-387-7600, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Who’s Responsible?

The property owner is responsible for clearing any blockage in the service line between the home and the sanitary sewer main. This includes clearing debris and tree roots. The property owner is also responsible for cleaning and repairing any damage done to the property by the backup.

Does my insurance cover this?

Most homeowner insurance policies exclude damage resulting from sewer backups. Many insurance providers do have optional insurance riders that may be purchased to insure loss due to sewer backups. Note: there is a difference between flood insurance and sewer backup insurance. Please check with your insurance agent.

The line is clear, now what do I do?

Help is available if your home is left unusable because a sewer backup has resulted in damage to the heating or water system, resulted in electricity being cut off, or left your house in an unhealthy condition so you cannot live in it until repairs are made.

  • The American Red Cross offers assistance to persons who are left homeless because of fire, flood or other problem with a dwelling. To initiate the process, you must first report the problem to the Rockford Human Services Department or the Winnebago County Health Department. They will contact the Red Cross on your behalf.
  • If you live in the City of Rockford, you may get assistance and referrals to other agencies by calling the Human Services Department at: 779-348-7114.
  • If a dwelling is unsafe to live in, all residents of Winnebago County may call the Winnebago County Department of Public Health at: 815-962-5092.
  • If you have homeowner’s or tenant’s insurance you should immediately contact your insurance agent to determine what damages are covered by your policy.
  • Additional sewer-related problems should be reported to the Rock River Water Reclamation District at: 815-387-7600.
  • For the numbers of cleaning services that can help restore your property, look in the Yellow Pages under Fire and Water Damage Restoration. District personnel cannot recommend a specific service provider.
  • Flood recovery information for “do-it-yourselfers” is available from the American Red Cross without prior referrals from Human Services or the Health Department. Call 815-963-8471.

Click here to view the Official Policy on Interrupted Service.

Why did my sewer back up?

Sewers back-up for two reasons; either the line is blocked or more water is trying to flow into the main than it can hold.

When the main cannot handle all of the water that is coming into it, the water backs up to a higher level. Generally the water comes up through floor drains, toilets and sinks in the lowest part of the houses that are at the low end of the sewer main. See the diagram below:

Diagram explaining why sewers back up, image from Rockford Register Star

(image from Rockford Register Star)

Blockages in sewer mains can happen because the pipes become filled with debris, tree roots grow into the pipes and block the flow, or large objects, such as tree branches and rocks, are dumped into manholes.

Sewer blockages can result from grease used for cooking. Grease can solidify in the sewer lines and restrict other waste from passing through the line. The sources for grease which are common in the kitchen exceed just meat fat. See Homeowner Tips to learn how to avoid grease sewer back-up problems.

The lines can also be blocked by items which are improperly flushed down the drain or toilet. Examples include disposable diapers, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, and washing machine lint.

A common cause of over capacity flooding is the illegal connection of sump pumps to the sewer lines. Just 10 sump pumps can overfill the average residential sewer main during a storm. Gutters and drain tiles which are improperly diverted to the sanitary sewer may also lead to over capacity flooding. The District utilizes a Clear Water Inspection program to identify and correct these types of illegal connections. See Clearwater Inspection for more information.

Who’s responsible for fixing my sewer?

The Rock River Water Reclamation District is responsible for the maintenance of the sewer mains that run in the streets.

Individual property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the lines running from houses to the sewer mains.

Property owners are also responsible for any damage caused by blockages of the lines running from the house to the street. The District is responsible for problems in its lines only if the problem is due to negligence on the District’s part. There is no way for the District to prevent inappropriate debris from being placed into the sewer system.

Damage to your home from sewer backups might be covered by your homeowner or tenant’s insurance. Check with your agent.

If a problem is in the line from the house to the street, the homeowner must first contact one of the District Licensed/Bonded Contractors to clear or repair his/her connector line. If the contractor is unable to open the line and the problem is found to be within the public right-of-way, the contractor may call the District for assistance.

Will it happen to me again?

Some areas are susceptible to flooding because they are located at the low end of the sewer line, illegal connections overfill the line, foreign materials block the line, or for other reasons. There are some things you can do to prevent repeat flooding or to minimize damage in case of a flood.

  • Don’t contaminate the system. The sewer system is designed to carry human waste and wastewater for treatment. Grease, oils, diapers, paper towels, rags, food scraps, and other items can clog sewer mains and often cause backups not just for you, but also for your neighbors.
  • Remove illegal connections. Gutters, sump pumps, and other storm water systems should not be routed to the sanitary sewer. If you know of such a connection, immediately disconnect it or report it to District staff.
  • Install one of several available backup prevention systems. Ask a plumber what would be best for your situation. For more information, see the District’s Backflow Prevention Program.
  • Convert to an overhead sewer system. This type of system is not for everyone. If your home is in a flood prone area, converting your residential sewer service to an overhead system can mitigate backup occurrences. With an overhead system, the service line leaves the home just below ground level. Any basement bathrooms or utilities must be pumped to ground level to the main service line. Ask a plumber if this type of system would be beneficial for your situation.
  • Store valuables at least high enough to be above the water level of the last flood.
  • In case of root problems in sewer service lines, make arrangements for periodic cleaning.