City of Madison

City of Madison Engineering | Photo Credit: Archie Nicolette


Sewer Maintenance Pamphlet   en Español

Fats, Oils & Grease brochure
Madison Metropolitian Sewerage District: What NOT to flush

What to do if the sewer backs up

Image: Sewer Cleaning
Call the City Engineering Division's Operations Section at 608-266-4430.

7:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Monday-Friday
9 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday, Sunday

After 11 p.m. a Water Utility dispatcher will assist you, an emergency crew will be called in to respond to your call.



The process after an emergency call

The emergency maintenance crew will first check the public sewer main. If the public main is blocked the crew will remove the obstruction to restore service. The crew will notify the property owner or resident when service has been restored.

If the public main is operating normally, indications are that your private building sewer is the cause of the sewer backup. The emergency crew will immediately notify the property owner or resident of this fact. If a blockage in the private building sewer is the cause of the sewer backup, it is the responsibility of the property owner to clear the blockage (the private building sewer extends from the interior plumbing of the building to where the pipe connects to the public sewer main, most frequently located at the center of the street). There are various private firms listed under "sewer cleaners" in the yellow pages who are equipped to remove the blockage from the private building sewer.  The City requires contractors to be licensed and pre-qualified to work in the public right-of-way.  A list of pre-qualified contractors is available here. 

Residents who have experience in these matters may want to investigate renting equipment to clear the blockages themselves.

In the event that any of these actions are not successful in removing the blockage from the private building sewer, it is possible that the private building sewer has collapsed.  The property owner or resident is urged to again contact City Engineering Division's Sewer Maintenance Section to determine what further measures may be undertaken to re-establish sewer service. 

In some instances the entire sewer lateral within the right-of-way may have to be replaced.  The ower is responsible for contracting with a contractor who is pre-qualified by the City to make the repair(s).

If a contractor is used, the property owner is responsible for paying the contractor directly for services. The City Engineering Division recommends property owners require contractors to televise the sewer lateral and provide a video before agreeing to have the lateral repaired. City Engineering staff is available to review the video free of charge.

How backups happen in pipes

  • Tree roots are a major cause of lateral backups. Tree roots can enter the service pipe at joints and travel a long way, causing blockages along the way. Tree roots can also create structure defects when they crack and break pipes as they grow.

  • Blockage can happen when homeowners do not pay attention to what goes down the drain such as: grease, hair, dirt or solid materials such as disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, broken dish ware, garbage and debris.

  • Structural Defects happen as systems age and deteriorate. These defects include full or partial pipe collapse, cracks, holes and fractures.