Is Your Sewer Pipe About to Fail?

Nothing lasts forever, and a sewer pipe is no exception.

Property owners are responsible for the sewer pipe (called a lateral or side sewer) that connects the plumbing of their house or building to the public sewer under the street. The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San) is responsible for the public sewers, only.

While modern PVC (plastic) pipes last for up to 100 years, older pipes made from clay tile, cast iron, or other materials wear out much sooner. If your house was built before the 1970s, there’s a good chance the pipe is clay and could soon wear out.

As older pipes deteriorate, hair-thin tree roots can squeeze into joints or cracks. The moisture and nutrients within the pipe enable the roots to thrive and grow until they block or even break the pipe.

Sewer pipes can also get clogged by an accumulation of grease and debris (such as disposable wipes).

clogged sink

DO: Dispose of grease, wipes and debris in the trash.

How Do I Know if My Sewer Pipe Needs to be Repaired?

Have your sewer pipe inspected by a licensed plumbing contractor if:
• You have a sewage backup;
• A toilet or household drain empties more slowly than usual;
• Patches in your yard are always wet.

DO: Get a video inspection of the inside of the pipe to determine whether it is damaged or simply clogged.

How Much Will Repairs Cost?

The cost of a sewer repair can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars and will depend on several factors, such as location, accessibility, length of the pipe, depth of the pipe, cause of failure, type of material, and the number of connections.

DO: Have repairs made before an overflow occurs, if possible; otherwise, your costs could be significantly more.

What If I Have More Questions?

calling for help

DO: Contact Central San’s Permit Staff at (925) 229-7371.

Sewer Facts vs. Fiction

Can you separate fact from fiction when it comes to what’s good — and bad — for sewers? Here’s a list that will increase your sewer IQ, and possibly help you to avoid an expensive plumbing bill!


Grease is Gross! (Especially for Sewers)

If you do this:

frying shrimp

Please don’t do this:

Never pour grease down the drain
Never pour grease down the drain!

Pouring grease down the drain is one of the worst things you can do to your home’s plumbing — and the public sewers.

Some people think it “goes away” when they wash it down the drain with hot water. It doesn’t. Grease quickly cools, hardens, and then clings to the inside of pipes. It forms a gross, sticky blob that grows over time. Eventually the pipe can become totally clogged, and sewage can backup and overflow in your home, or in the streets.

Instead of pouring it down the drain, put cooled grease (and fatty food scraps and used cooking oil) into a disposable lidded container. Store it in the freezer to harden, and then put it in the trash.

Bring large quantities of grease and oil (such as from a turkey fryer) to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility for recycling into biofuels.

Watch this video for more info:


The Scoop on Pet Poop

puppy and kitten

We know they’re cute. They’re loyal and loving, and who can resist those adorable furry faces? But there’s another side to cuddly cats and dogs: the back side that produces poop pollution!

From Your Lawn to the Bay

According to the EPA, pet waste is a significant cause of water pollution.

When left on the ground, pet waste can be washed by water from sprinklers and rain into gutters and storm drains. Storm drains in our area are not connected to the sewer system; they funnel water directly into creeks, streams and the bay without treatment.

In water, the bacteria in decaying pet waste consume oxygen and release ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia can be harmful to aquatic life. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote excessive weed and algae growth, making water cloudy, green, and unhealthy.

Perhaps most importantly, pet waste contains bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make water unsafe for swimming or drinking.

Dog eye roll

The Solution Is As Simple as 1, 2, 3

It’s easy to prevent pet poop from polluting our water environment. Just follow these three steps:

1. Pick it up
2. Put it in a bag
3. Put it in the trash (never in the yard waste or compost bins!)

Landfills are designed to handle that type of waste.

Can You Flush It?

Please do NOT flush pet waste.

• Out treatment plant was designed to serve the human population of central Contra Costa County, not accounting for pets. Right now there are nearly 470,000 people in our service area. We don’t know the pet population, but if 50% of our customers have one pet, that’s about 235,000 additional little (or big) poopers. If all that pet waste were to be flushed, it would put an additional load on our system and could make it more difficult for our treatment plant to treat the human waste for which it was designed.

• Please do not flush Flush Puppies® or other brands of “flushable” dog poop bags. They may be biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean they dissolve quickly in water (one manufacturer admits this can take up to 96 hours). Even though they go down your toilet, they can clog sewer pipes!

What About Flushing Kitty Litter?


Typical kitty litter is made of clay. Clay mixed with water makes something close to cement which can clog your pipes. Even if it isn’t made of clay, nearly all litter is designed to absorb liquid, and when that happens, the particles expand; your pipes don’t. “Flushable” kitty litter may be more biodegradable, but can still clog your pipes. Sewer (and septic) systems just aren’t designed to handle kitty litter, no matter what it’s made of.

Aside from the litter itself, what’s in the litter – cat poop – may contain the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which can survive the treatment process and is known to kill marine mammals like sea otters. That’s why all cat litter sold in California is required to have a label warning people not to flush it down the toilet.

Put the litter into a bag, seal it, and put it in the trash.

Are Tree Roots Inside Your Pipes?

Tree roots are the leading cause of sewer clogs and overflows.

Hair-thin roots infiltrate sewer pipes through tiny cracks, and then thrive on the moisture and nutrients inside. It doesn’t take long for them to spread out and begin snagging materials like grease, wipes, and other items people put down drains and toilets. Soon the pipe can become completely blocked, and even break apart as the roots and blockage continue to grow.

Tree roots are the #1 cause of sewer clogs.
Tree roots are the #1 cause of sewer clogs.

How to Prevent Root Problems In Your Pipe

• Find out where your sewer pipes are. Companies that do this are online/in the phone book as “Pipe & Leak Locating Services.”

• Don’t plant trees or shrubs above or near the sewer pipes (or install root barriers when planting).

• Maintain your house side sewer/lateral. If there are trees near the pipe, have it inspected/cleaned by a professional plumbing service every other year.

• If you have continuing root problems, consider removing the offending tree or shrub.

• Ensure an Overflow Protection Device is installed on your sewer pipe’s cleanout.

Tree roots clog a sewer pipe.
Tree roots inside a sewer pipe.

Small Device Prevents Big Problems

Although sewer backups and overflows are rare, they can cause a lot of damage, create a health risk, and be expensive to clean up. That’s why Central San has an ordinance requiring all homes and businesses in our service area to Overflow Protection Deviceshave an Overflow Protection Device. (If installation of the device is not practical, a property owner may apply for an exception.) You can read the ordinance here:

Most overflows are caused by clogs in private side-sewers/laterals, which are the pipes that connect a building’s plumbing to the public sewer. These pipes are the property owner’s responsibility. But overflows can also occur in the public sewer main, which are Central San’s responsibility.
Overflow Protection Device
Installing an Overflow Protection Device is the best way to prevent sewage from backing up into your home or business, regardless of whether the problem is in the public sewer main or a private lateral.

Note: The device will not help if a clog occurs between it and the building, so keep your pipes free of grease, wipes, and anything else that might cause a clog!

Because proper elevation and location are critical for the device to function properly, we recommend that it be installed by a licensed plumbing contractor.

If you already have a device, please keep it clear of obstructions such as dirt, plants, concrete, or anything else that might interfere with its operation. If you hire a gardener or landscaper, make sure they know this.

If an overflow occurs and there isn’t an Overflow Protection Device installed and properly maintained, the property owner may be responsible for resulting damages.

If you do not have this device yet, please have one installed right away. They are available at plumbing supply stores.

We can help you determine the best type of device for your home or business. Please call our Permit Counter staff at (925) 229-7371 for more information.

Wipes Clog Pipes!

Disposable wipes, even ones labeled as “flushable,” can clog your toilets or plumbing, and our sewers, pumps and treatment plant equipment. Please put them in the trash, not the toilet!

Disposable wipes are very popular. We get it. They’re convenient and easy to use. We’re not asking you to stop using them. We ARE asking you to stop flushing them.

Sure, they will usually disappear down the toilet if you flush them. But it’s what can happen NEXT that matters.

Disposable wipes are manufactured to be tougher than toilet paper.  They will not break down in water as quickly as toilet paper, and that’s why they cause problems. They get hung up on roots, grease, and other debris inside pipes and then cause clogs and sewage backups.

Wipes clog pipes
This nasty-looking mass of wipes was removed from a clogged pump.

They also clog our pumps and damage our treatment plant equipment; they must be manually removed and hauled to the local landfill. Please just give them the most direct route by putting them in your trash can, rather than the toilet.

As if the clogging potential wasn’t bad enough, many disposable wipes contain harsh cleaning chemicals and are made with plastic fibers that will pollute local waters when flushed.

Please dispose of wipes — even those labeled “flushable” — in the trash can, not the toilet.