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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sewage Troubling Homes

When Susan Petro’s house flooded in 1988, she assumed the cause was a construction flaw.

But when it flooded a second time in 1992, Petro watched the water come up through a drain and knew it was sewage backing into her basement.

Poolesville handed out plugs in 1996 to residents of the Wesmond subdivision and that seemed to solve the problem. The Petros felt so sure flooding issues were behind them, they recently installed heated wood floors.

Then, on Sept. 8, Poolesville got 13 inches of rain, according to Paul “Eddie” Kuhlman II, president of the Poolesville Town Commission, with almost half of that falling in a three-hour window.

Weatherbug, based in Germantown, said its Poolesville recording station on Jerusalem Road, north of the town, measured just under 4 inches of rainfall on Sept. 8 and a total of 10.09 inches from Sept. 1 to Sept. 21.

“That big of a difference is surprising to me,” said Weatherbug’s Jacob Wycoff.By the time Petro got home from work, her basement was flooded. Her husband and a neighbor worked for four hours pumping out the water with a wet/dry vacuum until another neighbor managed to insert a new plug in the drain.

The first plug had worn out.

Petro was one of two residents who told the Poolesville Town Commission about their flooded homes Monday night and among the 10 or more who have called commissioners since the storm to complain.

If the town had told people they would be talking about the sewer backup, more residents would have come, Dennis Minor said after the meeting.

Minor, who also lives in Wesmond, told commissioners he watched sewage pour into his house through his toilet and bathtub. His finished basement now needs to be torn up and rebuilt. The two people living in the basement will have to move out because of mold.

This was his third flood in 15 years.

“I’m absolutely fed up,” he said. “I thought this was solved.”

Some of the plugs the town handed out in 1996 are now old and corroded. When new, the plugs stop backups into drains but will not prevent water and sewage from flowing into homes through toilets, Town Manager Wade Yost said Tuesday.

In 2002, Poolesville began relining the main waterlines, which are made of terra cotta, and the 8-inch cast iron lateral lines into homes with a thick fiberglass to prevent seepage at the connection points, Yost said.

The project was completed in 2007 at a cost of $2.5 million. At the time, technology did not permit the town to do the same for 6-inch lateral lines, but newer technology does and the town recently awarded a $40,000 contract to do that, he said.

“I thought we’d made great strides,” Kuhlman said. “Unfortunately, it is something we will never get totally rid of.… We all feel bad.”

Since the storm, Poolesville engineer John Strong of Huron Consulting in Germantown has researched backflow preventer valves. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission recently started requiring the valves in houses that are less than four inches higher than a manhole. Using that standard, Yost estimates about 20 houses in Poolesville need the valve.

“None of the new subdivisions have this problem because main lines are lower than houses,” Strong said.

The valves work by closing when water pressure builds up.

“When the system becomes surcharged, valves close and there’s no way to flow back to the house,” he said.

The valves will cost about $2,500 apiece, he said.

“Whatever the cost, we have to fix it,” Commissioner Link Hoewing said.

Commissioner Jerome Klobukowski asked Strong if he was sure he had the best product available.

Kuhlman asked how quickly they could begin installations.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Kuhlman said.

Commissioners plan to make arrangements during their Oct. 3 meeting to install the valves. They referred damage claims to the insurance company that has handled flood claims for the town.

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