Sewers & Floods: The Basics

Sewers 101 Descriptive Graphic

Water entering a home creates a stressful and emotional situation for homeowners or renters. Although the City makes every effort to properly maintain the sewer system, a flood may still occur. The following information is offered to help property owners and residents understand why incidents of flooding happen, and how they can be prevented through routine maintenance by homeowners and the City.

Public Sanitary & Storm Sewer Systems

Two different sewer systems serve the City of Shaker Heights.

First System

The first system is designed to transport household waste from homes. Drains from sinks, showers, toilets and basements empty into the sanitary sewer. This system is the public sanitary sewer system and is operated and maintained by the City and by the Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works, Division of Sanitary Engineers. In Shaker Heights, there are 95 miles of sanitary sewers in which the waste flows by gravity to the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant, owned by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. At the Plant, the waste is treated and ultimately discharged to Lake Erie.

Second System

The second system is the storm sewer system and is designed to transport storm or rain water to area streams and rivers. Storm sewers are a network of piping, also flowing by gravity. The storm water runoff is collected at inlets from streets, catch basins, area drains, and also from individual residential and commercial properties via gutters, downspouts, yard drains, driveway drains and footer drains. These pipes vary in size from eight to over 60 inches in diameter. There are approximately 114 miles of storm sewers in Shaker Heights. The storm water will eventually discharge to the local waterways of the Doan Brook and, like the treated wastewater, ultimately drains to Lake Erie. The operation and maintenance of the public storm sewer system, within the public right of way, is the responsibility of the City.

Private Property Sanitary & Storm Sewer Systems

In addition to the public sewer systems, residents should be aware of small sewer pipes, generally four to six" in diameter, on their property (see illustration). These sewers are called service laterals, which connect the building to the main lines, and their purpose is to convey both storm water and domestic waste in separate pipes. Service laterals are the responsibility of the property owners. The meeting point where private sewers meet public sewers is at the test tee (see illustration). It is the homeowner's responsibility to maintain the service laterals and the test tee. The City will maintain from the test tee to the main sewer in the street. A certified plumber can inspect your laterals for proper water flow and complete any maintenance or repairs when deemed necessary. Contact the Shaker Heights Building Department 216-491-1460 for a list of registered plumbing contractors.


Basement flooding may be the result of a blockage in the line, from tree roots or baby wipes, for example, or from heavy rain, causing the storm sewer to become overfull and infiltrate the sanitary sewer, often located in the same trench. If the backup is caused by a problem on the side of the line between the house and the test tee, that is the private (homeowner's) side of the system. If it occurs on the other side of the test tee, it is the City's responsibility.

Find more information about backups and remediation in FAQ about Sewers.

City's Preventative Maintenance

The City's preventative maintenance program includes cleaning thousands of catch basins on streets and in parking lots and fields; jetting high water at high pressure through almost a million feet of sewer mains; catch basin repairs, manhole inspections and repairs, storm water outfall inspections; and root control.