New homebuyers routinely inspect for pests and check the roof, but they almost never think about the condition of the pipes under the house. That has begun to change since January 2012, when an ordinance requiring buyers to replace private sewer laterals (the connection between private plumbing the public sewer) took effect in Oakland.

Buying a house is one of three events that trigger a requirement for the home’s private sewer lateral to be certified as sound, repaired or replaced. Other triggers are remodeling work of more than $100,000 or a request to change the size of the water meter. Once a sewer lateral has been replaced, the homeowner gets a certificate of compliance good for 20 years.

For homebuyers, the requirement can feel harsh: one more unexpected cost piled on at escrow.

“What the program is about is working together to protect SF Bay and to invest in our aging infrastructure,” said Andy Katz, President of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board of Directors. “The private sewer laterals are a literally connected part of the infrastructure.”

“In the story of civilization,” Oakland Public Information Officer Kristine Shaff observed, “the thing that saved most people’s lives was clean water and sewage pipes.” She added that, after years of neglect, there is currently a renewed emphasis on the importance of infrastructure. Shaff estimates that the 919 miles of sewer maintained by the City of Oakland are, on average, 60-70 years old.

Although EBMUD was the entity sued by the EPA over sewage discharges into San Francisco Bay, it is the owners of the leaky sewer connections, both private and municipal, who are responsible for fixing broken pipes. The City of Oakland has sewer replacement projects in progress or planned for several neighborhoods identified as vulnerable to stress in wet weather.

To comply with the EPA’s clean water mandate and to accelerate the pace of sewer lateral replacement, EBMUD is offering incentives to residents to fix their private sewer laterals without a triggering event. Rebates are offered to property owners adjacent to the city’s sewer main repair projects. “It’s more cost effective because the street is already open,” said Angela El-Telbany, Associate Civil Engineer and Regional Private Sewer Lateral Program Project Manager at EBMUD. “A property owner may realize some significant savings in the cost of the sewer lateral.”

EBMUD’s rebate program is in its pilot phase, according to Christopher Dinsmore, Associate Civil Engineer and EBMUD’s Private Sewer Lateral Rebate Program Project Manager. In most areas, the program offers rebates of up to $3,000, depending on the work needed and the total cost. If the cost is less than the rebate amount, homeowners may end up paying nothing for the repair.

Homes that meet one of the triggers – such as being sold – are not eligible for rebates.

In Case Study 4 of the pilot, which will ultimately include over 900 properties in Northwest Oakland, EBMUD has hired contractors to bring the private sewer lateral pipes into leak-free condition, at no cost to homeowners. “On the whole, it’s hard to complain about this program,” said Christopher Schardt, a property owner who took advantage of the offer. He praised EBMUD staff for making the whole process easy.

Participation in the rebate program “varies neighborhood by neighborhood. As low as 10% to upwards of 65-70%,” Dinsmore said. The pilot project aims to collect data on what incentives work best before a permanent plan is announced next year.

El-Telbany calls the private sewer laterals “the missing piece of the puzzle” for improving water treatment, noting that, although “sewer laterals are out of sight out of mind, it is infrastructure that needs to be maintained.” Dinsmore urged eligible homeowners to participate in the pilot program: “If it’s offered, take it. It’s a great offer.”

To find out more about the rebate program, visit http://www.eastbaypsl.com/eastbaypsl/rebate.html.  Over 3,000 properties in Oakland will eventually qualify for one of the programs.  To view maps of the project areas, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the number under each project.

About The Author

Laura McCamy, is a freelance writer, editor and researcher, and a contributing production editor at Oakland Local. Her work also appears in Momentum Magazine and the Intuit Small Business Blog. Follow Laura on twitter @lmcwords

5 Responses

  1. FloodedByCEDA

    Oakland’s private sewer lateral program is well intentioned. Unfortunately the Typically $5,000+ home buyers and sellers are forced to spend is wasted because Public works and The City attorney’s office will not allow the use of the standard quality pipe couplings required by state code and used in most other cities. Building services staff is well aware of the problem and a feud between Building services and Public works is ongoing. Meanwhile substandard sewer construction continues all over Oakland.

    Reply
  2. CIPP Guy

    I agree with FloodedByCeda to a certain degree but a step further. PW and B&S lines are to strict and governing regarding private sewer laterals. Think about this…I/I and exfiltration dont have rules they follow according to PW and B&S right? Duh! So if you want to solve I/I and E issues, you need to stop the who’s responsible game and start saving $$$. Best way to do so is don’t dig the city main…Please stop the insanity. CIPP the city main and save millions and cut the red tape on this program and allow the home owner to use the rebate to repair their entire sewer lateral from house to main without any digging in just one day! Clearly you want them to repair their line when the city side is already open. Why not give them that option through a clean-out to main without any digging at all?

    Don’t think its possible…? Wanna bet?

    Reply
  3. FloodedByCEDA

    CIPP guy got it 100% right. For most of Oakland’s older glazed clay sewer mains and laterals, Cured In Place Plastic is the perfect durable and low cost sewer rehabilitation method…….If installed according to the manufactures instructions. Unfortunately recent CIPP main rehabilitations in Oakland have failed due to Improper curing, Failure to clean the main before pulling in the liner, Improper use and handling of resin, Improper reinstatements of laterals (how about some top hats?) Inadequately trained instillation crews, lack of adequate Quality control, and CERTIFIED city inspectors being kept off the job due to political considerations. Oakland does not even have a written policy on how to tap a new lateral to a CIPP rehabbed main. There is adequate funding generated by the sewer tax on our water bills to maintain an EPA compliant sewer system, however the cities 3100 restricted sewer service fund is being wasted and used as a slush fund to support other city departments. Homebuyers and sellers are now forced to pay to try to correct the serious I/I problem identified in the EPA v EBMUD lawsuit and settlement agreement. City sewer service staff has been expanded to their benefit, however they have been ineffective in addressing the I/I health and water quality hazards. In spite of Private Sewer Lateral permit fees that can run $1000+, Homeowners do not receive the adequate city inspections they rely on to confirm compliance with codes and specifications.

    Reply
  4. Laura McCamy

    Thank you to CIPP Guy and FloodedbyCEDA for bringing some serious technical knowledge into the debate.

    Reply

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