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Sewage invades homes, businesses

Clogged line may have been caused by nearby construction

With salvaged files around them, workers prime a pump to draw sewage from a business's basement near 3300 South and 2100 East.
With salvaged files around them, workers prime a pump to draw sewage from a business's basement near 3300 South and 2100 East.
August Miller, Deseret Morning News

Two families were temporarily displaced and one-fourth of an accountant's backup files were lost after a clogged sewer line flooded parts of an eastside neighborhood Saturday.

Unified Fire Authority crews responded around 9:30 a.m. to a call in unincorporated Salt Lake County about flooding. Crews quickly found the problem was much worse, according to Jay Torgersen, UFA spokesman.

A blockage in a main sewer line was blamed for raw sewage backing up into buildings around 3300 South between 2000 East and 2100 East. Torgersen said it started with a report of a toilet backing up at Advanced Accounting CPAs Steiger and Co.

Lee Steiger, who owns the firm and was working Saturday, said that when he went downstairs, he found the floor was wet. He heard the sound of rushing water and went into the bathroom to find water flowing over the toilet bowl.

"It didn't smell great," he said. "I'm just glad I was here (to call 911)."

Eventually, eight businesses and three basement-level condominiums were impacted, according to Torgersen. At least one business, he said, had 2 feet of standing sewage in its basement.

"Luckily, it's just in the basements of these units," he said.

Firefighters immediately began helping people carry their belongings to higher ground. They helped Steiger carry three-fourths of his backup files to the lawn in front of his office. But even if it had all been lost, Steiger said, everything is backed up electronically, too.

Two of the condominiums were occupied, and one of the occupants is staying with family. The other is staying in a vacant apartment nearby. Torgersen wasn't ready to put a dollar amount on the damage.

He said each of the condominium residents had assumed the sewage flood was isolated, but when seven fire trucks and 30 firefighters showed up, they realized the problem was more widespread.

By 10:30 a.m., utility workers had stopped the sewage from backing up and bubbling up through drains.

Crews from the Salt Lake City Suburban Sanitary District No. 1 lowered tools into nearby manholes to find what caused the clog.

They pulled out chunks of brick and concrete, which may have fallen into the sewer during a recent repaving operation on 3300 South.

Ray Dotson, maintenance supervisor for the district, said the contractor who was in charge of raising the manhole covers during the repaving was probably to blame for the clog.

With 380 miles of sewer pipe and 8,000 manholes, Dotson said, his district cleans each section of pipe every year by blasting water at 3,000 pounds per square inch in each section. Sewage backups hardly ever happen.

"We're upset if we have to do this once a year," Dotson said.

There is a long list of health concerns associated with raw sewage, according to Dale Keller, area supervisor for Salt Lake Valley Health Department's environmental health division.

"Hepatitis A certainly can be an issue," Keller said.

His job is to make sure those impacted know how to disinfect and clean up their surroundings. That process continued throughout Saturday.