Helpful Information

What is Wastewater?
Wastewater is used water. It is water that has been used in some way that negatively impacts the quality of water. While we normally think of wastewater as sewage, wastewater comes from many sources including homes, businesses, industries and schools. This used water comes from showers, sinks, dishwashers, laundries, car washes, clinics, food processing operations, manufacturing plants, and of course toilets.
Wastewater is mostly water. Wastewater typically averages 99.94% water by weight which leaves only a small amount, 0.06% to be waste material. The small percentage of waste material is either dissolved or suspended in the water and can come from many things. The obvious waste material is human waste but it is our daily activities that contribute many of the pollutants in our wastewater including food remnants, paper products, dirt, personal care products, and cleaning supplies.

Concentrations of these substances are usually referred to in milligrams of pollutants per liter of water (mg/l) or parts per million (ppm). To help put this in perspective, one ppm is the same as one minute of time in 1.9 years or one inch in 16 miles. What this means in the wastewater world is that our wastewater treatment processes are designed to remove a few milligrams per liter of a pollutant similar to you looking for a needle in a haystack. However, the balance of nature depends on us to have the ability to do just that and SCCMUA accomplishes this continuously 24 a hours a day, 365 days a year.

How Backwater Preventers Work
What is a backwater valve?

A backwater valve (sometimes called a backflow or sewer backup valve) is a valve you can install on your sewer line and is designed to allow water or sewage to flow only one way, that is, out of your house. Anytime there is a sudden heavy rainfall; the sewer lines can become overwhelmed, causing water or sewage to flow back towards your home. If there is a sewer system backup, and you have a backwater valve in place, sewage will not be able to flow back into your house.

The risk of sewer backup increases if there is a basement in your home, or if the ground floor is less than a foot above street level. If a new home has any fixtures located lower than the street level, The National Plumbing Code requires to have a backwater valve installed.

How does it work?

Your home’s sewer system allows water and sewage to flow out of the house. A backwater valve will stop water or sewage from flowing into your house should the main sewer line become overloaded. In most cases, you can check to see if it’s working properly by looking through the clear cover on the backwater valve access box.

Inside the valve is a small flap that is normally open allowing water to exit your home. It also allows any sewer gases to be vented. There is a small flotation device on each side of the flap. If water or sewage starts to flow back into the house, these floaters cause the flap to lift up and close, thus preventing anything from entering your home.

When the water stops coming back towards the house, gravity will allow the flap to fall into the open position again, allowing water and sewage to resume flowing out of the house.

If this backwater valve is being put in an existing home, as opposed to being installed in the initial construction, a plumbing permit from your municipality is needed. A licensed, qualified plumber will have to cut a hole in the concrete floor, usually near the floor drain. They will dig down to the main sewer line, cut out a portion, and replace it with the new valve. These valves often have a clear top so you can see if it is operating properly. There is a lid that can be removed for cleaning.

Without a properly placed and installed backwater valve, sewage could come into the basement through a floor drain, sinks, tubs, and toilets.

  • Talk to your municipal government to find out if any local permits are required, as well as to find out what sort of equipment they recommend.
  • Check that your drain and downspouts are not connected to the weeping tile and sanitary sewer. In most cases, if you disconnect the foundation drain, your home will require the installation of a sump pit and pump. It is recommended to talk to a plumber and your local government department for advice on how to properly disconnect downspouts and foundation drains.
  • Hire a licensed plumber. They can install the backwater valve and can also obtain any necessary building permits. Municipal governments sometimes have lists of pre-approved plumbers.
  • Make sure eaves-troughs, once disconnected from the sewer system, drain away from your home, but not directed toward your neighbor’s property.
Maintain Backwater Preventers
What can you do to maintain your backwater valve?

You should check at least annually to remove any debris that could clog the valve and to make sure all moving parts have free movement. Most valves have an easily removed cover, to allow quick cleaning. But be careful. Some experts recommend running some hot soapy water down your sink first to make sure the system is fairly clean. Always wear rubber gloves and use a long-handled brush to scrub around and under the flap. Most backwater valves will have a manufacturer’s recommendations regarding maintenance.

You’ll also want to look at the O-ring around the lid to make sure it’s in good condition. If not, it should be replaced to ensure a proper seal. Also, check the floats at each side of the flap, and replace if necessary. If these are worn, they will lose their ability to float, and won’t be able to lift the flap when needed.

To keep everything flowing smoothly, you may want to consider NOT flushing such things as “flushable wipes” or diaper liners. By disposing of these things in the garbage, rather than in the toilet, you will be saving your system from performing extra work, and will hopefully be preventing the system from getting clogged.

If you’re unsure about the condition of the valve or are not comfortable attempting it yourself, you can call a plumber to do an inspection.

Watch a short video here on how they work!

Help! I have sewer odors...
Have you ever walked into your bathroom and smelled an unusual odor? Well, that’s probably happened a few times, actually!

But have you ever clearly noticed a sewer smell in the bathroom that is just undeniably strange? If so, it could be coming from an external source – from the actual sewer itself. And if that’s the case, it’s important to act as soon as possible to get rid of it.

There are a few reasons this smell could appear out of nowhere in your home’s bathroom. It could be a smell coming from the toilet, or it could be something else. Check out our guide below to get a better idea of where exactly this sewer smell in the bathroom could be coming from.

Reason #1 for Sewer Smell in the Bathroom: Water in P-Trap Has Evaporated

The first reason you could be noticing a sewer gas smell in the bathroom has to do with the water in your bathroom’s P-Trap evaporating, which leaves the room susceptible to odors. So, what is a P-Trap and why do you need it? It’s the section of piping underneath your sink that is shaped like a “U.”

In normal plumbing circumstances, when everything is working well, a little bit of water remains in the P-Trap after you do the following: flush your toilet, turn off the faucet, or empty the bathtub in your bathroom.

This bit of water that regularly remains in the P-Trap basically acts as a barrier. The water prevents sewer gases from entering your bathroom. Here’s something you can do on your own. Try pouring about a quart of water into every drain in your bathroom. This should do the trick to fill the P-Trap and block the odor. It’s normal to hear gurgling sounds after you do this. If the odor doesn’t go away shortly after, there may be something else causing the smell.

Reason # 2 for Sewer Smell in the Bathroom: Improperly Installed or Cut Vent Pipe

Another thing that could be causing the sewer smell from the toilet could be a poorly installed or cut vent pipe. The vent pipe is supposed to send gas odors outside your home so you don’t smell them; however, sometimes a contractor vents these pipes to the wrong place, which is why you notice the smell. See if you can identify where the smell is coming from. If it seems like it’s coming from the wall, it’s most likely an issue with the vent pipe. A vent pipe can also have a crack that allows the odor to spill out. To find this crack, professional plumbers can use a smoke machine (don’t worry, it fills your pipes with harmless smoke); once the smoke leaks out, your plumber can locate the leak and fix it.

Reason # 3 for Sewer Gas Smell in the Bathroom: Buildup in Your Sink’s Overflow

And here’s reason number three that could be causing that annoying sewer smell. Check to see if your sink has an overflow mechanism. This hole provides a bit of relief if the sink is overfilled. Like most appliances near water, it can build up grime in no time, so it could be contributing to the smell. Using a small bottle brush, try cleaning out the overflow hole to wipe away any buildup. You can also use a turkey baster to mix a solution of half chlorine bleach and half water. This will help clear out any grime (never mix chlorine bleach with anything else but water!)What if These Do-It-Yourself Solutions Don’t Eliminate the Sewer Odor? If none of the above-mentioned quick fix solutions get rid of the sewer smell, it’s wise to call a professional plumbing company to investigate more thoroughly. Professional plumbers will not only pinpoint the exact cause of the odor; they’ll also have the knowledge, experience and professional tools to eliminate it for good.

Fats, Oils, & Grease - FOG
Help us stop the Clog!

Bacon grease, chicken fat, and vegetable oil are just a few examples of FOG.  It tends to clump together with other FOG washed down drains or flushed in toilets, slowly congealing and reducing flow capacity in the sewer pipes.  Much like too much fat in your diet can cause clogged arteries and lead to a heart attack in humans, the result of many households washing FOG down their drains can also be disastrous causing backups in your home or your neighbors home with extensive and unpleasant damage.

Fats don’t dissolve in water.  Washing FOG down the drain with hot water may take it past your sewer connection, but as the water cools, the fats and grease harden in sewer pipes.  Detergents dissolve fat enough to clean your dishes or laundry, but not enough to keep it from congealing in the sewer.

Put it in the trash.  If a FOG will solidify, let it.  Placing it in your refrigerator or freezer can speed up the process. Simply spoon it into a container (preferably not anything recyclable) and put it in the trash, once it is solid.

Scrape plates into the garbage using a rubber or silicon spatula.

Before washing pans or anything containing FOG, pour it into a container to solidify.  Then wipe the pan with a paper towel before you wash it to absorb as much FOG as possible and discard the paper towel in the trash.

Don’t put liquid oil in the trash.  Instead, place it in a sealed can and add kitty litter, coffee grounds or other absorbent material.

Read more about FOG here.

Proper Disposal Practices
Used Cooking Oil

What ARE you supposed to do with the leftover cooking oil and grease from that turkey you fried? 

  • Do NOT put it in the trash
  • Do NOT pour it down the drain
  • Do NOT pour it on the ground

Instead, take it to a recycling drop off site:

Recycle Depot
5507 S Cedar St, Lansing

Read more about turkey frying facts here.

Learn more about how to properly dispose of frying oils here.


Unused Prescriptions and Over the Counter Medications

Unused prescription and over the counter medications that are put in drains or flushed down the toilet, pollute the environment.  Please take as prescribed and dispose of unused portions properly.

Most medications in pill, tablet & liquid form are accepted every day at most of the local police departments and some pharmacies.  Call ahead to verify that your local police department or pharmacy has a drop off location. 

For more information, visit: Lansing Area Take Back Meds



When it comes to garbage disposals, drains, toilets, and trash cans, they are not all the same.  Disposing of trash down drains and toilets can cause harm to human health and our local environment.  Using drains and toilets as trash cans may create sewer overflows into streets and water bodies.  Treatment plants effectively remove toilet paper from wastewater; all other garbage should go in the trash can.

Read more about hazardous waste disposal here.