On April 27, 2009, we responded to a complaint of water in the back yard. The complaint originated from house drain inspectors. On April 28th, our contractor was sent out to televise the main sewer to locate the private drain. They found that the sewer was not depicted in the City Sewer Atlas. They were able to locate the alley sewer 14 feet north of the manhole at the alley on Normandy, which lines up under private property.
The next day, the same contractor used a private drain camera to televise the sewer that is on private property underneath the garages. After receiving the video on May 1, 2009, DWM asked the Department of Buildings Sewer Permit Section to locate the records of the easement agreement. They found no record of easements or other agreements, and had to turn to Cook County Records. Some of these were already on loan. On May 6, 2009, after review of county records, it appeared that it could be a private sewer. However, no easement or other agreement could be found, and a judgment call had to be made. We asked our top engineer—a Deputy Commissioner with 30 years of experience—to visit the site and make the call. He made the decision to treat it as a City sewer in order to repair a problem having an acute impact on the family at 6631 W. Albion.
The repair was made on May 15, 2009, and a manhole was subsequently installed at Normandy and Albion to permit continued maintenance of the alley sewer.
DWM worked with Alderman Brian Doherty in addressing the situation. We regret the time it took, but the situation was very unusual and it was necessary to research ownership and then make a policy judgment with the interests of both the property owner and the City considered.
Most sewer mains in Chicago are well documented and have been placed in the public way. We think there may be a small number of sewer mains in similar circumstances to this one—placed in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and not properly documented on our plats. Given this supposition, we would not expect to identify them until a problem develops.
Where possible, during a rain storm, drainage from alleys should flow to the street. If there is a low spot in an alley, an alley sewer is required. About 8 percent of the City's 4400 miles of sewers are in an alley. These sewers are typically 10 -inches or less in diameter.
As a City standard, alley sewers are meant to accept rain or storm water only, and only from the alley itself. No new connections from houses to alleys sewers are allowed. On very rare occasions (less than 1 percent of all alley sewers), sanitary discharges from homes are connected to the alley sewer.
The DWM has the entire sewer system in a Geographic Information System (GIS) data base. However, this data base must be Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) for accuracy and consistency with our current hard copy atlas pages. The GIS system must also be able to reproduce hard copies to scale. The aforementioned tasks are underway, but are labor-intensive, and will take time to accomplish.
In addition to this basic narrative, Mr. Goudi has asked the following questions.:
Q: How much of our sewer inspection is outsourced to private companies?
A: Initial field inspections are performed visually from the surface by DWM in-house evaluation crews. It is estimated that about 400 miles per year of sewer line are inspected due to 311 complaints. An additional 400 miles are visually inspected from other programs such as private drain program, lining program, road improvement programs, etc.
If the crew suspects that there is be a problem (i.e., high water in the sewer or a street depression), the sewer is videotaped by a private contractor. In 2008, about 37 miles were televised.
Q: Other addresses where sewer pipes are in private property reportedly include 1525 W. Thomas and some new construction in the Cabrini Green area.
A: The developer built a new house and tore out our outlet pipe from an alley CB to the main, he ignored our easement and the fact that our pipe was there. He will have to fix this.
Reply received on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 from Chicago Water Dept.:
Why is Commissioner John Spatz not sitting for an interview?
Commissioner Spatz has a very busy schedule and has provided answers to all of your questions in writing.
(The I-Team) has a plat that shows an alley (in the) sewer as part of the grid. In (your statement you say) the sewer was not on the plat. What gives?
Earlier records (prior to 1979) show no sewer in the alley and after 1979, the sewer atlas and House Drain Atlas were altered to reflect a sewer in the alley, but it was depicted incorrectly. This is not the sewer that drains 6631 W. Albion. As per our previous statement, the sewer that drained this location was located approximately 14-feet north. This sewer ran under private property and garages, and is not depicted on any document to this day.
The City made repairs on the apron of the garage on North Normandy, north of the alley and in line with the sewer that ran under garages.
A new manhole was installed 14-feet north of the existing manhole to give the City the ability to clean and rod this sewer in the future. (See attached sketch)
What is the Geographic Information System? Is that the same as the plat? Is it digitized?
All sewer and drain atlases have been digitally scanned in and are typically distributed in that manner. The DWM Sewer Section is in the process of converting atlas pages to a digital GIS format. This process may take up to three years or more. As an intermediary step, the sewer atlases are currently updated digitally by a computer-aided drafting program.
The person who came out to be inspector when the private drain was televised was Dennis Henderson. Does he have a plumber's license? Is one necessary in that position. Does he have an inspector's license? Is one necessary in that position?
Dennis Henderson is a House Drain Inspector. He became a House Drain Inspector on 4/1/02. He does not have a plumber's license, nor is he required to have one. He does not have an "inspector's license", nor is he required to have one.
Both the plumbers and the residents for two addresses claim they have public sewers running beneath private property. One is 1525 W. Thomas. The other is 425 W. Evergreen. What can we say about these?
With respect to the Thomas Street address, the developer built a new house and tore out our outlet pipe from an ally catch basin to the main. He ignored our easement and the fact that our pipe was there. He will have to fix this. As for the Evergreen address, we are looking into it.
Who is responsible for the damage at the Albion Street home?
The homeowner may file a claim with the City Clerk's office. Resolution may depend on ownership of the sewer in question.
Chuck Goudie said as many as 20% of the City's sewers run beneath private land. This is a question of definition. Almost all of the City sewer main system runs beneath the streets in the public way. If Mr. Goudie is including private drains that convey water to those mains, he is talking about drains that are the property of building owners—and their responsibility to maintain. The City assists in making repairs under the Private Drain Program, but we do not consider them as part of The City of Chicago owned sewer system. If Mr. Goudie is including them, we would question his calculations.