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Greenwood’s new tune: Drain, drain, go away

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Thousands of Greenwood and Center Grove area residents will be required to reroute where their sump pumps drain, and that could cost them hundreds of dollars.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is requiring the city to approve a stronger ban on hooking sump pumps into sewers and to do more to enforce the prohibition.

The devices keep basements and crawl spaces from flooding during periods of heavy rain but can overload the sewer system with rainwater if hooked into sewer pipes.

Such connections are common in homes built through the 1970s, since there were no regulations at the time about pumping rainwater into the sewers, city attorney Krista Taggart said. But having rainwater in the sewers increases the cost of treating wastewater and can cause raw sewage to back up during heavy rains.

The changes

A state agency is requiring Greenwood to do more to prevent people from having sump pumps hooked into sewers.

Ban: Greenwood has to strengthen its ban, including by increasing fines for violations.

Enforcement: The city must come up with a detailed plan for how it will enforce the prohibition, including for sewer customers who live in the Center Grove area.

Public education: Greenwood will have to inform its sewer customers that their sump pump discharge lines should flow into a yard or somewhere else the water can drain, not into sewers.

Testing: The city must figure out how to determine which sump pumps are hooked into sewers and may have to inspect sump pump connections in homes with basements or crawlspaces.

Greenwood currently forbids hooking sump pumps into sewers but has difficulty enforcing the rule, community development services director Mark Richards said. The city once put out fliers asking homeowners to reroute their sump pump discharge lines but got only two calls in response, Richards said.

The city has to figure out how to get more people to comply with the rule, Richards said. The current fine of $50 also must be increased to give people a greater incentive to change their systems, he said.

Every home in the city with a basement or crawl space could be affected, and that could be as many as 5,000 houses, Richards said. The prohibition also applies to homes in White River Township that are connected to city sewers.

Greenwood is required to approve a stronger ban by the end of the year, under an order from the state after the city spilled sewage into a Center Grove area creek last year, Taggart said. Thousands of homeowners potentially would have to hire contractors to reroute sump pumps to flow into their back yards, instead of sewers, and such work typically isn’t cheap, she said.

Rerouting a discharge line to the backyard typically costs around $200 to $250, said Mark Ralph, owner of Americrawl Inc., a southside contractor. The exact cost depends on the site and how far the line has to be run to keep rainwater from flowing back into the house.

Each additional foot of line costs $9, and some jobs can cost as much as $500, Ralph said. Replacing an existing sump pump, which is recommended every three to five years, would add $300 to $375 to the bill, he said.

Residents with basic plumbing knowledge could be able to reroute the lines themselves without having to hire a contractor, Richards said.

The ban mostly would affect the Old Town area and older neighborhoods such as Eldorado, Taggart said. Thousands of homes could be affected, but she didn’t know exactly how many.

“We do know that, with older homes, a sizable number have tie-ins to the sanitary sewers,” she said.

Homes built within the past 20 years likely wouldn’t have an issue, Taggart said. Their sump pumps typically send water flowing into back yards, where it soaks into the earth or flows into rainwater-collection ponds.

But even with newer homes, sump pumps have been incorrectly installed or hooked directly into the sewers in some cases, Richards said. That’s a problem because the sewers are designed to handle sewage and can overflow when filled with rainwater, sometimes into people’s yards.

Greenwood also pays by the gallon to have the city’s wastewater treated at the Southport Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Indianapolis, and a surge of rainwater increases the cost.

IDEM officials are concerned with the possibility of pollution if sewage spills from overloaded pipes. Last year, the city entered into an agreement with the department to avoid fines for a spill that killed hundreds of fish in Honey Creek in 2011.

Greenwood agreed to take additional precautions with its sewer utility and follow stricter rules for the next six years to prevent future spills. The agreement spells out how the city should keep pipes from leaking, fix them and stop rainwater from getting into them.

By the end of the year, the city is required to approve a tougher ban with steeper fines and a more detailed plan for how to enforce it, Taggart said.

The city needs to determine whether it will have to send inspectors to homes to see how the sump pumps are hooked up or if tests that involve pumping smoke into the sewer system could determine where sump pumps are hooked into sewers, she said. City officials also will have to decide whether to fine people who don’t follow the rules and how to let them know that their sump pumps can’t be hooked into the sewers.

“We’re going to have to do a massive public education campaign,” she said.

The Greenwood City Council and Greenwood Board of Public Works and Safety would have to approve the prohibition. Taggart said she expects the city to bring forward a specific proposal within the next six months.

Greenwood still has many technical issues to work out, such as how to get utility customers who don’t live in the city to comply, Richards said. They aren’t subject to city rules, but Greenwood is still responsible for any discharges from their sump pumps into city sewers, he said.

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