Your Sewer Line Backs up When It Rains: Sacramento’s Storms Are Causing Unprecedented Pipe Problems

sacramento sewer line backs up when it rainsI was driving through Sacramento recently and saw something that was, to be honest, pretty crazy—the water in the Sacramento River was so high it was almost spilling onto the Tower Bridge. That’s what it looked like, anyway. Having grown up in this area, I’ve seen it happen before, usually in the winter when the rains come. But, since we’ve been suffering from a historic drought, it’s been awhile for me.

Experts are now saying the drought is over, at least in our area. The Sac Bee is reporting that 48.6 percent of California is no longer dangerously dry, a major increase from the 5 percent level we were at last year around this time—we’ve already been hit with 211 percent of our normal annual precipitation.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is where all that extra water is going to go. Ruptured and blocked pipes, backed up sewers—these are both problems homeowners need to be aware of after a sudden influx of water. I know worrying about problems related to too much rain after such a long drought seems silly, but it’s not. All that water can cause costly damage to your plumbing and your home if you don’t protect your pipes.

How to Protect Your Pipes from Common Problems

It might seem silly since most pipes are made of undisputably durable copper or steel, but they actually face big risks after heavy rainstorms like the ones that have pounded Sacramento this year. Sometimes, the signs of damage aren’t evident right away until busted pipes begin leaking water into your yard or home.

Let’s take a look at the two common types of damage your pipes are at risk for:

  • Broken pipes: Maybe while driving around, you’ve seen a little flooding, some road closures, uprooted trees—I know I have. Combined, they all tend to shift the ground, the same ground where your pipes are located. When the ground shifts, it puts new pressure on pipes. Heavy rains also soften up the soil, allowing rocks to move around, possibly slamming into and rupturing your pipes. Once this happens, dirt and debris can then enter through the cracks. So, if you’re seeing grit or discoloration in your water after a heavy rain, call a plumber. You may have a broken underground pipe.
  • Clogged pipes: Heavy rain often leads to leaves, branches, and dirt falling into drains, which are already overworked from all the excess water. Overworked municipal drains mean water from the public sewer system can get into your pipes, carrying with it the materials I mentioned earlier and creating clogs. One early sign a blockage is building up is a gurgling noise coming from your toilet, sink, or shower. These obstructions happen deep in your pipe system, so you’ll want to call a plumber for this as well.

One other thing to note is that during a severe drought the soil dries up and contracts, which puts pressure on pipes, potentially weakening them. In that state, pipes that used to be solid become prone to breaking. With this in mind, I can’t urge you enough to call a plumber if you suspect pipe problems after a recently-ended drought.

Prevent a Sewer Backup from Affecting Your Home

Heroes in cartoons and movies often have adventures that involve traveling through sewers, but Hollywood rarely conveys how gross it is down there. Take it from someone who knows: it’s not pleasant.

A sewer backup is never a good thing. Materials you’ve flushed will return into your home through your drains, often due to issues with the municipal sewers. In cities like ours where torrential downpours are infrequent, the drainage system isn’t all that capable of handling bursts of rainfall. Overworked local drains mean there’s nowhere for the water from your house to go. Sacramento got 9.92 inches of rain in January this year, and the normal average for that month is 3.62. No matter how great a city’s drainage system is, a sudden three-fold increase in water is going to tax its sewers.

Thankfully, a sewer backup is an easy problem to spot—sewage will be flowing into your bathtub, shower, or sink. You can’t miss that. It’s a harder problem to address, though, because it can often be caused by failures in the city sewers, which you obviously don’t control. But, if you have an efficient and functioning backflow prevention device, the risk of this can be limited.

As the name suggests, backflow devices are specifically made to guard against anything flowing back into your pipes once it’s left your home. There’s a wide array of these devices on the market to choose from, so you’ll want to consult with a professional plumber to make sure you’ve picked out the right one to guard your home and pipes.

This post has been a bit stormy (sorry about the pun), but don’t get the wrong impression. I’ve been enjoying all the rain this year—it’s a nice change of pace from all that sun Sacramento is sure to get this summer and, after this long drought, we certainly need it. A professional plumber can easily help you avoid the plumbing problems we’ve been discussing. They’re costly issues if not addressed quickly but, also, you probably want to be able to stay in and enjoy listening to the pouring rain on your windows and roof without worrying about sewer invading your home. After all, who knows the next time we’ll have this many storms. Our rainy winter weather will probably be over soon, so don’t let it leave gloomy plumbing problems behind in your house.

Don’t let Sacramento’s rainy winter break or clog your pipes. Contact the professionals at Bell Brothers today to make sure your plumbing is healthy and efficient.