Sewer Study Findings

Findings from the LMCIT Sewer Study include:

  • More than 63 percent of paid claims were for an obstruction in the sewer line. Obstructions were the most prevalent and expensive cause of sewer backups among paid claims from 2003-2006.
  • The second most prevalent and costly cause of sewer backups was lift station problems, which caused more than 15 percent of 2003-2006 paid claims. The total incurred cost for backups caused by lift station problems was $1.1 million.
  • Backups caused by the design/construction of the system had the second largest median cost per claim (damages), even though they occurred with the least frequency. The median claim cost (damages only) for backups was nearly $4,000 per claim.
  • Sewer backup claims with multiple claimants were a great deal more costly than those with a single claimant.
  • City liability primarily was due to maintenance and inspection issues of sewer lines. Total costs incurred due to maintenance and inspection issues were $2.4 million.
  • There was no difference in the cause of sewer backups for claims in which the city was liable (paid claims) and for claims in which the city was NOT liable (zero-pay claims).

Reasons for Increasing Damage Costs

A couple of reasons likely are impacting rising damage costs:

  • The increased number of homeowners who use their basements as added living area. These “finished” basements likely contain items of higher value than those of basements in years’ past.
  • Another factor is that society generally is more aware of the potential health issues associated with mold in one’s home, consequently, there is an intensified need for more rigorous cleaning and replacement of certain materials following a sewer backup, and the costs associated with these activities will continue to increase as well.

Cities Must Exercise Reasonable Care

Minnesota cities need to exercise reasonable care for sewer systems to avoid sewer back-up liability. This means cities must establish an inspection and maintenance program and emergency procedures.

LMCIT assembled a task force to develop recommendations and tools to help cities develop a sanitary sewer program. Those tools area available now, as part of "Sewer Toolkit: A Guide for Sanitary Sewer Maintenance Policies and Procedures.

View LMCIT’s Sanitary Sewer Toolkit (pdf)