Windsor Heights has an aging sanitary sewer infrastructure. Because sewer lines are old, they can crack and allow groundwater to infiltrate into them. Some residential properties also have foundation drains or sump pumps that tie directly into the sanitary sewer, which means that stormwater and groundwater are introduced directly into the sewer system. These are referred to as inflow and infiltration issues.

Windsor Heights has an aging sanitary sewer infrastructure. Because sewer lines are old, they can crack and allow groundwater to infiltrate into them. Some residential properties also have foundation drains or sump pumps that tie directly into the sanitary sewer, which means that stormwater and groundwater are introduced directly into the sewer system. These are referred to as inflow and infiltration issues.

The sewer system then becomes inundated with water with every storm of any significance. Many times there is simply more water than the pipes can carry. In the worst cases, a mixture of stormwater and sanitary sewage floods residents’ basements and overwhelms the city’s water treatment facility. Regrettably, sometimes the sewage flows directly into Walnut Creek, which leads to the Raccoon River and is the source of our drinking water. We will all have to work together to bring the infrastructure up to date if we are to prevent more basements from flooding and preserve our clean drinking water. That is why we are introducing a new public-private program we refer to as, S.O.S., or "Save Our Sewers".

Below are two examples of the sewer lines in Windsor Heights. These pictures were taken inside our sewer system in 2011. The first picture shows a sizable crack in the sewer line and the other shows a root ball penetrating into the sewer line. Both of the conditions in these examples can cause clogged or collapsed sewer lines. In addition, these problems allow groundwater to enter our sewer lines.

There are solutions, but even the simplest of them requires city-wide cooperation and a significant investment. The best way forward is to retrofit the system with new pipes inside the old pipes (commonly referred to as sliplining) and to identify and correct any inflow and infiltration from private sources, which includes disconnecting or “decoupling” any sump pumps or foundation drains that are currently connected to the sewer system, which introduces stormwater and groundwater into these lines. This will require commitment and investment not only from the city, but also from property owners. City Engineers estimate 40 percent of the “inflow and infiltration” problem stems from the city’s pipes, while the remaining 60 percent of the inflow and infiltration can be attributed to residential properties. Homes and businesses will have to be inspected. In many cases, repairs costing significant amounts of money may have to be made.

This is a problem in many other Iowa cities, as well, and each is handling it differently. Some cities are imposing mandates on residents and forcing them to comply by creating expensive fines. In Windsor Heights, we would like to avoid this approach if possible, although a mandate may be necessary in the future. S.O.S., or “Save Our Sewers,” is an incentive program that we hope will encourage property owners to identify potential “inflow and infiltration” problems on their property and make any repairs they may need to make.

The S.O.S. program offers partially forgivable loans to property owners who need to make upgrades. The loans are up to 50 percent forgivable, depending on property owners’ income levels. We are excited to be able to offer this to residents, thanks to the partnership and support with Polk County, the Urbandale-Windsor Heights Sanitary Sewer District and the Neighborhood Finance Corporation. However, there is a finite amount of funding available to provide the forgivable portion of the loan. In other words, future funding levels for the S.O.S. program are uncertain so this may be available for a limited time only.

For more details about the financing your repairs, you can call the Neighborhood Finance Corporation at 515-246-0010. As always, feel free to call City Hall at 515-279-3662 if you have any additional questions.