Sewer Back-Ups

The following is intended as a guideline from the Marion County Public Health Department and Citizens Energy Group to help Marion County residents know the steps to take if sewage is found in or around your home.

How do I report a Sewer Back-Up or Sewer Overflow?

To report a sewer back-up or sewer overflow, please call Citizens Energy Group - Customer Service at (317) 924-3311. Citizens Energy Group – Customer Service will dispatch field staff to check the public sewer line at the reported location. If the public sewer system is blocked or nearly full, a crew and equipment will be dispatched to clear the blockage and/or correct the problem. In most cases, a crew will be on site within two (2) hours of the dispatched call. If the public sewer system is not blocked and appears to be flowing normally, the resident will be notified by door tag that the blockage appears to be on private property. The resident will be encouraged to call a licensed plumber to correct the problem. Residents are responsible for clean-up in basements and on private properties; Citizens Energy Group (Citizens) is responsible for the clean-up in the public areas only.

What should I do if sewage is on the ground?

If the sewage is in your house or yard, please report the problem to Citizens by calling (317) 924-3311. Avoid direct contact with the sewage which may contain contaminants that are harmful to your health.

After the immediate problem has been resolved, what should happen next?

Due to health and safety concerns, the areas affected by the overflow or back-up should be cleaned as soon as possible. Hiring a professional clean-up company to assist in cleaning the area should be considered. Citizens and the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) are not able to recommend contractors, but to find an appropriate contractor, please check the Yellow Pages (and/or complete an internet search) under “Fire and Water Damage Restoration.”

Considerations for hiring a professional for clean-up instead of doing the work yourself:

  • If forced-air ductwork becomes contaminated with sewage inside the home

  • If sewage remains indoors for over 24 hours in a finished living space

  • If the job is just too large or complex for the property owner

Health and safety issues with exposure to sewage:

Encountering sewage creates a risk of potential health and safety problems when cleaning up your home. If the flooding in your property was the result of flow that came out of any pipe or plumbing fixture in your home, it may contain some amount of sanitary sewage, possibly mixed with the stormwater which caused it to backflow through unprotected fixtures. Even if the basement flooding appears to be the result of “rain” or “clear” water, you should still follow these cautionary guidelines when cleaning up. Sewage and floodwaters contain bacteria, fecal material, viruses and other hazardous microorganisms, which can cause disease. These “germs” can be transmitted by touching contaminated items or by tracking them into uncontaminated areas on shoes. Children, the elderly and pets are especially vulnerable when exposed. Odors from sewage back-ups are unpleasant, but are not harmful. The speedy removal and cleanup of sewer water is very important and necessary.

To protect your health and safety:

  • All circuit breakers supplying electricity to affected areas should be turned off. Do not enter a flooded area unless it can be determined that there are no electrical hazards. After the area has been cleared of possible hazards, all electrical appliances, on wet floors should be unplugged.

  • Do not enter premises if the smell of natural gas is present (smells like rotten eggs), or if there is leaking fuel oil. Turn off the gas (or other fuel source) to furnace and/or hot water heater.

  • Do not use any electrical equipment while standing in water.

  • Keep children and animals out of the affected area.

  • The cleanup and drying of the basement should occur as quickly as possible to minimize mold and other potential risks.

  • Do not track sewage from the basement into the living areas of the house.

  • All standing water needs to be removed. A sump pump, wet vac or bucket may be used.

  • Move any uncontaminated property away from the affected areas.

  • If your basement walls are finished with drywall, the areas contacted by water should be removed and disposed of as quickly as is convenient. Once these items get wet, they will retain moisture and will likely grow mold. Removing the wallboard also allows air to circulate around the wood studs, so they dry completely and may not need to be replaced.

  • Remove and discard upholstered furniture and porous wood furniture stained by sewage.

  • Treat all water soaked surfaces, furnishings and items as contaminated until properly cleaned and sanitized.

  • Discard or properly wash and disinfect toys, clothing and other contaminated objects.

  • Ventilate the affected area with floor fans and a dehumidifier to properly dry the area. Whole house air conditioners or furnace blowers should be used only if standing wastewater did not get into the air ducts.

  • Generally, small household items that are affected or exposed to the sewage should be discarded.

  • The general rule of thumb is to discard all porous materials that have become contaminated by sewage, especially cosmetics, food, mattress and pillows, medicines and medical supplies, stuffed animals and toys, cardboards boxes, paper items, books and magazines, carpets and rugs, unfinished wood, wallboard, upholstered items, and anything else that is difficult to clean.

  • To sanitize, wash the affected area with detergent solution to remove surface dirt and contamination. Don’t skip this step, or the disinfection step will be ineffective. Then sanitize the areas with a weak bleach solution (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water). Allow it to air dry. Always ventilate with outside air any rooms where bleach is being used.

  • Sanitize and clean hardwood furniture, then thoroughly wipe, dry and apply an oil-based wood polish. Clean appliances and/or ductwork. If electronic motors, wiring or insulation have been saturated, have a qualified service technician remove the motor, dry it, and inspect for damage. Wet insulation needs to be removed.

  • After the waters have receded, flush out and disinfect plumbing fixtures before resuming normal use.

  • If mold is found, please refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for guidance:

How do I clean up sewage in my yard?

Sewage can carry disease-causing bacteria and germs, people should not touch it. If sewage is on your property, please use a hose to direct sewage and debris back into the nearest storm drain. Use a weak bleach solution (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water) to wash down driveways, sidewalks, and other hard outdoor surfaces. Sunlight will help to diminish these concerns on soft surfaces, such as lawns and flowerbeds. Any vegetables or fruit that has come into contact with sewage should not be eaten and disposed of in the garbage can.

How do I clean up sewage in my home?

Because sewage can carry disease-causing bacteria, direct contact should be avoided. If sewage entered your home, all sewage should be mopped out any entryway that leads to the street and a hose should be used to spray the sewage into the nearest storm drain. A weak bleach solution (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon water) should be used to wash down any hard outdoor surfaces, like driveways or pavement, to reduce any health concerns. The heat from the sun will help to diminish these concerns on soft surfaces, like grass. Always ventilate with outside air any rooms where bleach is being used.
To disinfect inside the home, it is recommended the homeowner contact a professional company that specializes in cleaning up after disasters. These companies are trained to clean harmful and hazardous materials and can assist in the restoration process. Companies of this nature can be found by completing an internet search using the phrase “Fire and Water Damage Restoration” or using the Yellow Pages.

The property owner should contact their insurance agent to report the back-up and to determine if this back-up is covered under the homeowners’ insurance policy. If it is not covered, consideration should be given on inquiring about sewage back-up or flood insurance coverage for the future.

If the public sewer system created the damage, a claim may be filed with Citizens Energy Group at (317) 924-3311. Once the claim is filed, a Citizens Energy Group insurance agent will evaluate the claim and determine whether the claim will be covered and if the property owner is eligible for compensation. In nearly all cases, sewer back-ups and overflows are not covered by Citizens Energy Group insurance.

How can I report a storm drain that needs to be cleaned? If you find a storm drain or swale not draining properly, please call Citizens Energy Group - Customer Service at (317) 924-3311 or submit your inquiry online.

What can I do to prevent flooding damage if I live in the Combined Sewer System area?

Combined sewers are a method for conveying both stormwater and sewage in combined piping systems. Historically, these systems were built in hundreds of communities across the United States before indoor plumbing became common. Customers can help limit the amount of damage in the Combined Sewer System by helping to keep gutters and drainage inlets clear of leaves and trash. Customers can also dispose of food waste and grease in the trash or compost organic waste instead of allowing it to enter the sewer system.

How can future back-up problems be prevented?

Installation of a backflow preventer (check valve) or shut-off valve on the building sewer, close to where it enters the structure, will normally protect your home from sewage back-ups due to surcharging conditions in the sanitary sewer system.

What is a backwater valve or backflow preventer?

A backwater valve or backflow preventer is located in the sewer pipe to prevent sewage and stormwater from backing-up in the properties sanitary sewer line, entering the home (typically the basement or other low lying floor with plumbing fixtures (toilet, shower, washing machine, floor drain etc.) when the sewer pipe is too full (can occur during extreme storm events). It is an effective device and is recommended for all homes with basement plumbing fixtures.


Is a backwater valve right for my property?

A plumber must evaluate your property and recommend whether a backwater valve is appropriate, where and what type to install. It is important that an experienced licensed plumber determine the correct application. Maintenance must be performed on a regular schedule in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. A properly operating backwater valve allows flow to only go in one direction (out), preventing sewage and stormwater from entering. A plumbing permit and inspection may be required, call the City of Indianapolis, Department of Code Enforcement at (317) 327-8700 to confirm.

  • Raising or removing any sink, toilet, washing machine, etc. in the basement that may be subject to overflows when the sewer system backs up.

  • Ensure that roof gutters, downspouts, and sump pumps are not connected to the property sanitary sewer line. They carry clean ground or rain water that can overload the capacity of your sanitary sewer pipe.

  • Ensure that gutter downspouts and rains are directed away from the foundation and towards low points away from the house.

  • Consider cutting down large trees or bushes near or over your sewer line, over time roots may damage and enter the sewer line causing restricted sewer flow from the property to Citizens main system.

  • Do not use carpet flooring in basements. Carpet must be discarded after a sewage back-up. Hard surfaces (tiles, ceramic, wood) can usually be dried out, disinfected and saved.

  • Purchase or install a pump (i.e. Sump pump) to pump out water that collects in the low point of the basement or structure

  • To the extent possible, keep furniture and valuables above flood levels.

What insurance protections are available to assist in the event of a sewer back-up?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, most homeowners and business insurance policies do not cover sewer back-ups unless specific coverage is added to the policy. Sewer back-up coverage is available from most insurers usually at a cost of $40 to $160 on an annual insurance policy, depending on the amount of coverage and the deductible you select. For more information, visit