Sanitary Sewer Easements
Sanitary Sewer Easements
Easements are designated portions of private property that are dedicated for public use. Sanitary sewer easements specifically overlay sewer mains on properties and grant the City the right to access the property for inspection and maintenance purposes, as required by the State issued Sewer Collection System Operating Permit.
These easements are typically established during the construction of the utility or when a property is subdivided for use. Property surveys and land descriptions, such as deeds or plats, often indicate the presence of sewer easements.
Much of Water Management’s 1,159 miles of sewer lines is located on private property within sanitary sewer easements. Inadequate operation and maintenance of the sewer system can lead to system failures, resulting in sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).
Maintenance of Sanitary Sewer Mains on Private Property
State and federal laws mandate that the City takes measures to prevent sanitary sewer overflows and regularly inspects and clears the sewer mains it owns. Water Management’s Water & Sewer Maintenance Division, with the assistance of contractors, undertakes maintenance and cleaning work on the 1,159-mile system. Regular maintenance of the sanitary sewer system is crucial to its proper functioning and to prevent any discharge of wastewater into the environment.
Water Management has the right, where it has an easement, to enter onto strips of land on private property to construct, maintain, inspect, alter, and replace sewer lines, laterals, mains, and manholes for the purpose of transmitting sewage. To carry out maintenance effectively, our staff must have uninterrupted access to these manholes at all times.
The majority of sanitary sewer mains are located underground and are connected to the surface with manholes positioned at, or slightly above, ground level. Consequently, the manholes can be situated in public right-of-way or on private properties within easements.
Keeping Sanitary Sewer Easements Clear
No one may create or construct, in, on, over, under, or through the strips of land, any structures, fill, embankments, plants or flora of any kind of size, encroachments of any nature, obstructions of any nature or improvements of any nature, provided that the strips of land may be cultivated if the cultivation does not interfere in the opinion of the City with the rights and privileges otherwise in the City pursuant to this easement.
The City shall have the right to clear the strips of land and to keep them cleared of structures, fill, embankments, plants or flora of any kind of size, encroachments of any nature, obstructions of any nature, and improvements of any nature. Nothing herein shall obligate the City to replace anything, including but not limited to plants and flora of any kind of size, that it clears in exercising privileges and rights in the City pursuant to this easement. It is important for property owners to understand that sanitary sewer easements must be accessible to be maintained.
Where it has an easement, the City has the right to clear these strips of land of:
- Plants or flora of any kind or size
- Encroachments of any nature
- Obstructions of any nature
- Improvements of any nature
This includes the removal of:
- Playground equipment
- Anything that obstructs Water Management from accessing the easement
Sanitary Sewer Easements: Their Importance in Durham
Water Management has the right, where it has an easement, to enter onto strips of land on private property to construct, maintain, inspect, alter, and replace, as it deems appropriate, sewer lines, laterals, mains, and manholes for the purpose of transmitting sewage.
Durham’s sewer system serves approximately 93,000 sewer accounts in the City of Durham, with a population of more than 310,000. One of Durham Water Management’s missions is to provide essential wastewater services that safeguard public health and protect the environment. Durham had one of the first sanitary sewer systems in North Carolina; the first sewer line is believed to have been built prior to 1900. Today, our sanitary sewer system includes:
- More than 1,159 miles of sewer gravity mains
- More than 57 miles of force mains
- 32,405 manholes
- 156 Air Release Valves (ARVs)
- More than 60 lift stations that transport wastewater to our two water reclamation facilities.
Regular maintenance of the sanitary sewer system is crucial to its proper functioning and to prevent any discharge of wastewater into the environment. The responsibility for maintaining the entire system lies with the Water & Sewer Maintenance Division of Water Management. The majority of sanitary sewer mains are located underground and are connected to the surface with manholes positioned at, or slightly above, ground level. To carry out maintenance effectively, our staff must have uninterrupted access to these manholes at all times. These manholes can be situated in public right-of-way or on private properties within the sewer easements.
Much of Water Management’s 1,159 miles of sanitary sewer is located on private property within easements. Inadequate operation and maintenance of the sanitary sewer system can lead to system failures, resulting in sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).
Understanding Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs)
A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) occurs when raw wastewater is discharged from the sewer system onto the ground or into a waterway. This release of waste can contaminate private or public property and nearby creeks or streams. Various factors contribute to SSOs, with the primary causes being the accumulation of fats, oils, grease, roots, and blockages from inappropriate materials like flushed wipes and paper towels. While Durham Water's proactive maintenance program significantly reduces the occurrence of SSOs, it is not always possible to prevent them when improperly disposed of materials cause blockages or during heavy rainfall events. Durham Water has averaged 25 SSOs per year over the last 10 years. It is critical for Water Management crews to have access to all of our sanitary sewer lines.
State Law and Durham's Easements
Applicable Laws and Regulations
In 1999, the North Carolina Clean Water Act was enacted by the State Legislature, mandating municipalities to prevent sewage spills and the entry of sewage into waterways. The legislation holds agencies accountable for preventable leaks and requires the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and its Division of Water Resources (DWR) to develop and issue sewer collection system operational permits. The City of Durham operates its system under permit number WQCS00005.
What Does the City's Sanitary Sewer Collection System Permit Entail?
The permit outlines the operation and maintenance requirements for the sanitary sewer system:
- The operator must develop and implement a program for cleaning all sewer lines, ensuring that a minimum of 10% of the system is cleaned each year.
- Rights-of-way and easements must be adequately maintained to enable access to the wastewater collection system.
- Regular inspections must be conducted to reduce the risk of malfunction and deterioration that could lead to waste release or threaten public health.
- High-priority lines, (i.e. aerial line, sub-waterway crossing, line contacting surface waters, siphon, line positioned parallel to stream banks that are subject to eroding in such a manner that may threaten the sewer line, or line designated as high-priority in a permit), must be inspected at least once every six months.
- Failure to comply with these guidelines and regulations can result in civil penalties (fines) and jeopardize the City's permit.
City of Durham Codes Related to These Matters
Section 8-2012 of the City of Durham Code specifies the following:
- Sec. 70-20. - Maintenance and repair of water connections, pipes, etc.
The city shall maintain all water connections within the streets or public right-of-way and shall absorb the cost of such repairs and maintenance through the fees charged pursuant to section 70-51. All pipes and fixtures within private property shall be kept in repair by the property owner or consumer. When repairs are not made to prevent waste of water within 48 hours after receiving notice from the city manager, the city shall discontinue service until such time as the repairs are made or shall have the right to enter on the property and make the necessary repairs. The work by the city shall be limited to the necessary water line repairs and backfilling. The cost of repairs performed by the city shall be charged to the property owner, and service may not be reinstated until they are paid.
(Code 1964, § 18-19; Code 1982, § 23-19; Ord. No. 7773, § 1, 3-20-1989; Ord. No. 9451, § 1, 11-18-1991)