Frequently Asked Questions: Wastewater

1. When are sewage disposal (or 'sewerage') systems used?

2. How does sewage and other wastewater leave my property?

3. What is a private drain connection (PDC)?

4. Who is responsible for the drain?

5. How would I know if my drain is clogged and what do I do if it is?

6. Who is responsible for the blockage in my drain?

7. How can a blockage in the drain be removed?

8. What is a cleanout and where do I find it?

9. Why is it important to find out where the blockage is located?

10. Why should I report drain problems to the Utility?

1. When are sewage disposal (or 'sewerage') systems used?

Any home or other building that is not connected to a municipal or Utility sewage system needs a method for getting rid of human wastes. Some people, usually in rural settings or camps, use an outhouse or privy. However, all buildings with indoor plumbing need to have a sewage disposal system that is properly designed and filed with the local public health authority.

A typical sewage disposal system has two basic parts:

  • A septic tank, or a treatment plant and;
  • A dispersal area - usually a series of underground pipes that evenly distribute the partially treated liquid into the ground for final treatment.

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2. How does sewage and other wastewater leave my property?

When you flush your toilet or run your washing machine, the sewage (wastewater) leaves the property through a pipe (building sewer and private drain connection) that serves as the link between the internal plumbing in the home or business and the main sewer that is found under public property (i.e. generally under the road). Although they bear two separate names, the building sewer and the private drain connection are actually one continuous pipe. The separate names reflect the nature of the property above the pipe. Under private property, the pipe is referred to as the "building sewer". Under public property, it is called the private drain connection (PDC). For most residences and small businesses, these pipes are usually I00mm (4 inch) or 150mm (6 inch) in diameter.

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3. What is a private drain connection (PDC)?

The Drainage By-law defines a PDC as that portion of sewage works which joins a building sewer to the Utility's sewer and which is upon lands that are either owned by the Utility or subject to a sewer easement in favour of the Utility.  

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4. Who is responsible for the drain?

The property owner is responsible for the complete drain from where it exits the house to where it enters the main sewer in the road. This includes all maintenance activities and the replacement of the drain, if required. The property owner is responsible because the Utility cannot control how a property owner maintains their drain (or does not maintain it), what they put down their drain and the fact that it is truly for private use. The Utility is responsible for the main sewer that runs in front of your property, usually under the driven portion of the road. 

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5. How would I know if my drain is clogged and what do I do if it is?

Slow-running drains or water backing up through a basement floor drain are a good indication that there is a problem. When this happens you should call a plumber or drainage contractor and find out if the problem is in the house plumbing, building sewer or the PDC. If there is a complete blockage in the drain system, you should contact the Utility at 250-342-6999 during regular business hours or 1-778-526-8050 after hours, weekends and holidays to determine if the cause of the blockage is in the main sewer. It is important to note that a blocked drain can result in sewage backup into your basement and this scenario can cause property damage and may become a health hazard. 

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6. Who is responsible for the blockage in my drain?

The property owner is responsible for the blockage in the building sewer or the PDC. Call the Utility at 250-342-6999 during regular business hours or 250-341-5763 after hours and report any problems with your drain. The main sewer under the road will be checked by Utility staff. 

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7. How can a blockage in the drain be removed?

Generally property owners call a plumber/drainage contractor or try to remove the blockage themselves with rented equipment (if rented, it is imperative that you understand how to operate the equipment effectively and safely). Drain repair equipment can include electric eels (i.e., power snake) or sewer rods with an appropriate size cutter on the end that is inserted into the drain through a cleanout. Many plumbers/drainage contractors have video-inspection equipment that can be used to identify problems within a drain. Video inspection equipment is not suitable to remove a blockage.

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8. What is a cleanout and where do I find it?

The cleanout is a direct access point to the drain. Clean-outs in homes constructed within the last 45 years are usually located near the front of the house, under the basement floor, where the drain exits the house. The cleanout can also be located outside the home and may be covered by several centimeters of soil.

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9. Why is it important to find out where the blockage is located?

If the blockage is located in the portion of the drain referred to as the building sewer, your own private drainage contractor or plumber can excavate to repair or replace the drain. Determining the location of the blockage is the property owner's responsibility.

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10. Why should I report drain problems to the Utility?

Property owners are required to report all PDC back ups. Your PDC backups could cause damage to the main sewer system and other dwellings. Keeping track of property owner situations helps Utility staff maintain a working and safe sewer system.

If you have questions about local requirements, contact your local environmental health officer.

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