San Francisco, CA
– As part of a public education campaign about the City’s infrastructure and homeowner responsibilities, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
(SFPUC) is mailing informational notices throughout the City to raise awareness about sewer pipes owned by property owners, also known as laterals. The agency plans to use SFPUC-led sewer replacement projects as an opportunity to educate property owners in all San Francisco neighborhoods.
“Our priority is to ensure that the SFPUC’s sewer system is working properly to protect the public health and the environment,” said Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., General Manager of the SFPUC. “The SFPUC does our part by inspecting, cleaning, repairing and replacing the City’s infrastructure. But it is also important for property owners to partner with us to do the same for their property’s sewer system.”
Sewer laterals in San Francisco are categorized into two sections—Lower Laterals, which typically run underground connecting the sewer main to the curb lines of property owners, and Upper Laterals, which run from the curb line all the way to the building structures.
The SFPUC replaces Lower Laterals if there are any structural defects, whereas property owners are responsible for regular maintenance such as jetting, cleaning, and inspecting to keep them in a state of good working order. For upper laterals, property owners are responsible for jetting, cleaning, inspecting, and repairing and replacing. The agency emphasizes the entire sewer lateral is an extension of the property, even if you can’t see it, which means property owners are responsible for it.
For a diagram and useful links to anything sewer-lateral, the SFPUC created a dedicated webpage at sfwater.org/SewerLaterals
To raise awareness about property owner responsibilities, the SFPUC will be mailing informational pamphlets to residents, in anticipation of upcoming sewer construction work in their neighborhood. The mailer will be sent out 2 – 6 months prior to construction, and again 30 days and 10 days before construction starts. Part of a pilot program, the mailer will emphasize the importance of maintaining sewer laterals.
By keeping their sewer laterals in good condition, property owners can help reduce the risk of sewer backups. For example, dumping grease down the drain or flushing wipes down the toilets can clog the sewer pipes, result in back-ups or overflows onto properties or streets, foul odors, and costly damage to private and public sewer infrastructure.
To help provide resources to homeowners, in late 2019, American Water Resources (AWR) was selected as the highest-ranking proposer as part of a competitive bidding process to offer optional water and sewer lateral insurance programs for San Francisco homeowners. More than 100,000 homes are eligible to receive such insurance, which provides protection plans for the water and sewer service lines. For more information, please visit www.awrusa.com/sanfrancisco
In addition to making optional protection programs available, the SFPUC is working to implement additional resources available for property owners:
Sewer Lateral Ordinance, currently in the planning stage, that will provide clear guidelines to property owners on the maintenance of their sewer laterals and connection to the City’s sewer system.
A Sewer Lateral Grant Program in the future, which will provide additional resources to support homeowner activities as related to their sewer laterals.
The SFPUC is offering more educational information for property owners on the lateral vents and traps, and backwater valves (designed to automatically shut when water flows towards the property and prevent sewage backup - especially important during heavy rains), all of which are the property owner’s responsibility to maintain. Detailed information can be found at sfwater.org/sewerbackwatervalve
. Property owners who experience sewage backup during rains, may be eligible for the agency’s Floodwater Grant Program
for a reimbursement to install the device. SFPUC is also exploring modern construction methodologies and materials to minimize disruption to residences.
The SFPUC is in the midst of the Sewer System Improvement Program
(SSIP), a 20-year citywide investment to upgrade the City’s aging sewer infrastructure to ensure a reliable, sustainable and seismically safe system.
The SSIP is part of a comprehensive approach to managing stormwater and advancing flood resilience across the City. Along with investing heavily in capital improvement programs, the SFPUC is educating homeowners on what they can do to be prepared and resilient.
Along with providing information and insurance options for sewer laterals, the SFPUC worked with the Board of Supervisors on an ordinance to require notification at point of sale for properties in the 100-year flood zone. In addition, the SFPUC launched the Green Infrastructure Grant Program, which provides funding to owners of large parcels to implement green infrastructure to help manage stormwater onsite.
About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at www.sfwater.org.