Most homes in the Bay Area were built decades ago and still have their original pipes that connect the home to the sewer line in the street. Over time, these Private Sewer Laterals (PSL), crack which allows your sewage to seep out into the ground around your home.  It also allows rain water that has absorbed into the earth to seep into the sewer system. If your private sewer lateral is cracked, winter storms can fill your pipes with water, tree roots and mud. Those things can clog your pipe and, farther down the line, can lead to sewage spills into the San Francisco Bay, polluting our ocean.

A private sewer lateral (PSL) is the pipe that carries waste from the plumbing in a home or business to the sanitary sewer main, usually located in the street. It consists of two sections: an upper lateral, which connects the building cleanout to the curbside cleanout, and a lower lateral, which connects the curbside cleanout to the sewer main. Property owners are responsible for maintaining the entire PSL, except in Alameda and Albany where that responsibility is for the upper lateral only.

Backups can also occur in your sewer lateral due to washing and flushing items that don’t belong down the drain. Items like fats, oils and grease (FOG) and products labelled “disposable” or “flushable,” wipes, household cleaning and personal hygiene products should never be flushed. Often those non-flushable items get tangled with hair and debris, creating massive sewer backups or creating a clog or blockage in your plumbing system. An overflowing toilet can ruin a home in an instant. What can be flushed? Only three things: poo, pee and toilet paper. All other items should be disposed of in the trash.

In 2009, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), the six cities that make up the greater Bay Area and one sewer district to fix old, cracked sanitary sewer pipes. Many pipes are in need of repair to prevent the infiltration of rainwater, which can overwhelm wastewater treatment facilities and lead to the release of partially treated wastewater into the Bay. The EPA’s mandate compelled EBMUD and its partners to phase in a Regional Private Sewer Lateral (PSL) Ordinance beginning in 2011. Affected property owners must obtain a certificate from EBMUD certifying that all of their PSLs are leak-free. So by law, you now must prove your sewer line is leak-free when you sell or remodel your building or when you change the size of the water meter. But if you’ve had to call a plumber to come unclog your drains, that might mean your pipe is cracked and fixing it now could save you the inconvenience and, in the long-run, money on plumbers.

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Visit for more information on certifying that your sewer line is leak free and or call a Sewer Specialist who can run a camera to assess the buildings sewer lateral condition. Help protect the San Francisco Bay!  Fix your sewer laterals today!


Greg Martin is with Streamline Plumbing and can be reached at  510-481-0380 or