A new sewer line, installed as part of a court-ordered pipe replacement program in Maryland, was supposed to be the end of a messy problem. Instead, the mold was the beginning of the Snyders’ troubles, and their home life remains in limbo, they say.
Ever since the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission replaced the Depression-era sewer pipe that caused the basement backup, rainwater has gushed underground toward their home, the Snyders say. Twice since the new sewer pipe was installed in April, the basement sump has been nearly overwhelmed, they say.
“It’s very frustrating,” Brett Snyder, 54, an economist at the Environmental Protection Agency, said as his wife teared up next to him.
WSSC officials say new sewer mains can indeed lead to more groundwater because rainwater that once percolated into the ground and into decaying pipes via cracks and holes suddenly needs a new place to go. Keeping stormwater out of new sewer pipes reduces sewage treatment costs and incidents of sewage overflowing into streams, WSSC officials say.
But WSSC spokesman I.J. Hudson said that since 1992, the utility has routinely used the same technique to replace sewer pipes and has not received any other groundwater complaints. WSSC officials say the fact that the Snyders’ home, in the 6100 block of Lombard Street, has had a sump pump for years shows that any drainage issues predated the April replacement of the 420-foot sewer pipe.
“We can’t control the migration of rain and groundwater into wet basements,” Hudson said.
Even so, some local officials are taking note of the Snyders’ complaints as the WSSC, like many utilities across the country, seeks to replace and rehabilitate its aging underground mains. The WSSC plans to replace 55 miles of sewer pipe this fiscal year.
The WSSC, which provides water and sewage-treatment services to almost 2 million residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, is halfway through a 12-year legal agreement that requires it to reduce sewage backups and overflows. The agreement stemmed from a 2004 lawsuit filed by the EPA and environmental groups over sewage spills.
“There’s such a huge need to deal with our aging infrastructure,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), who has met with the Snyders. “On the one hand, we really need these pipes replaced. On the other hand, we don’t want to create new problems at the same time.”
Cheverly Mayor Michael Callahan said he has asked to meet with WSSC officials about the Snyders’ case.
“We want to ensure that when WSSC does more work in our town that they’re very vigilant to ensure this doesn’t recur,” Callahan said.
Rebecca Snyder said the previous owners installed the sump pump, which has worked fine for their 21 years in the house. “We’ve never had a wet basement,” she said.