Sewage displaces apartment residents

Sewage displaces apartment residents

CHAMPAIGN — Residents at Champaign House Apartments were moved to hotels after the torrential rain this weekend caused raw sewage to back up into their ground-floor units.

Demolition crews were tearing down walls and ripping out carpet and vinyl inside 20 apartments at the complex immediately east of the former Carrie-Busey Elementary on Monday, the property manager said. It could be two to three weeks before residents are able to move back in.

Of those units, 18 were occupied. Ken Ford, the regional manager for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based property manager McKinley, said the group is working with the city to get the units cleaned up.

In the meantime, the manager is paying for hotel rooms for residents who want them. City of Champaign officials were on site Monday.

"We're working with the city," Ford said. "The city's been out here; we're working with them on what we need."

The units will be uninhabitable until they're cleaned up. The 64 above-ground apartments in the complex were unaffected.

"Hats go off" to the American Red Cross, Ford said. The group set up a shelter for displaced residents at Carrie Busey Elementary.

"They have been fantastic," Ford said. "They were out here almost instantaneously. They set up a shelter next door."

The overloading on the sewer system by Saturday morning's furious rain likely caused the problem, said Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana Champaign Sanitary District.

"When we have that large of a storm, all the sewers are challenged," Manner said.

Sewers move water with gravity — if there's too much water and the pipe for whatever reason can't move the water fast enough, it will back up into lower-lying areas.

That means the water comes up through toilets and other drains instead of going down and traveling to the sanitary district's treatment plants.

And Saturday's storm was intense. More than 4 inches of rain fell on Champaign-Urbana — but the volume alone does not cause a problem. In this case, it was the speed at which it fell: Manner said that officials measured 1/3-inch of rain in a 5-minute burst and 1/2-inch of rain in another 10-minute burst.

Although Champaign-Urbana maintains separate and independent storm water and sanitary sewer systems, rain water can still get into sanitary sewers through a number of ways — for example, through cracks in the pipes or sump pumps improperly connected to sanitary sewers.

"Flows five and six times normal dry weather (conditions) hit us," Manner said. "That rain came down quite fast."

It came at a bad time, too. Mid- to late-morning is when the sanitary district typically sees its highest flows already. Add an unexpected torrent, and you'll have trouble.

"The nature of each storm was a little bit different," Manner said. "This one was very intense and it came at a very bad time."

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