Exploding toilets shock North Ridge residents

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City says nothing can be done about it

When Mia Matton went to bed the night of Aug. 7, she couldn’t have predicted being woken up the next morning by her son bursting into her bedroom to tell her water was shooting out of their toilet.

The scene in the bathroom, as Matton describes it, was nothing short of chaos: Water spilling onto the floor and spraying the wall. Downstairs, the same thing was happening with their basement bathroom.

“It was just spewing water all over our floor and all over the wall,” she said.

It was a crappy way to start the day.

Outside, city contractors were busy flushing the sewer line on her street in North Ridge.

“We have four washrooms, and two out of the four had – for lack of a better term – exploded with water everywhere,” Matton said.

“It’s toilet water and it’s gross – and there was an odour. I had to disinfect it and use up all these towels, do laundry, and touch it and everything else.”

Matton said she has heard from four of her neighbours, who also experienced the same issue that morning.

Sherri Laliberte, who also lives in North Ridge, told the Gazette she was tipped off that something was wrong with her toilets when the upstairs one started gurgling and spitting up early in the morning on Aug. 8.

Downstairs – despite her habit of keeping toilet lids closed so her animals can’t reach the bowls – she found water spraying out of another toilet; and further down in the basement bathroom, the same thing was happening.

“The lids were all closed but there was water spraying out from underneath. I was like, ‘What the (heck) is going on?’ ”

Kevin Cole, the city’s director of utilities and environment, said this can happen on rare occasions, but usually the problem just presents itself as a bubbling or gurgling in the toilet.

So far this year, the city has received a total of five customer complaints of toilets gurgling and splashing, including two from North Ridge this week; by comparison, the city has flushed and root-cut more than 700 sewer lines so far this year.

Cole said when crews clean the sewer main with a flusher, if they stop on the spot where the service is, it’s possible they can push water pressure up the service line. Although the city believes the water jet would not reach all the way back to the house, a blast of air pressure could be the culprit of the splashing toilets.

“Very seldomly do we ever have any damage inside houses, but you can get a burp and a little bit of a splash.”

But is there a way for the city to prevent it from happening?

“Not really,” Cole said, and there’s not much residents can do either.

“You’ve got your flusher down in a pipe – you can’t see exactly where you’re at when they pause it.”

It didn’t help that the North Ridge sewer line had a lot of debris to clear, forcing crews to work harder and use more pressure – work that needs to be done fairly regularly to make sure the sewer doesn’t back up.

Cole said much of the debris was from oil and grease. He suggests residents should be aware of how those can gum up the sewer line and put that sort of waste in glass jars to throw out with their regular garbage.

In the meantime, he said, residents who experience water spraying from their toilets should give the public works department a call so the city can follow up.

“We hope that people will let us know when that does happen,” Cole said.

Flushing frequency varies from area to area. In older areas of the city, it happens every two years; newer areas are flushed every three years. Some lines that have historically had issues are flushed every six months.

Matton and Stephanie Cordova from Deer Ridge, who had a similar issue happen with her toilets a month ago, say they think something should be done – at the very least, they want the city to look at notifying residents when sewer lines are being flushed.

“I feel the city should have signs up on all the streets warning people,” Cordova said.

Cole said the nature of sewer flushing means that the flusher can be pulled away from regular maintenance to address emergent needs.

“Therefore, the work schedule for this equipment is constantly changing,” he said.

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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette