WATERLOO – Waterloo residents are demanding compensation after heavy rains and tinkering with the sewer system flooded their basements with sewage twice in June.
“To say we are in a state of desperation is an understatement, and we are hoping and praying that somehow our city comes through for us in our time of need,” said Lyndi Coburn. She recounted how up to 3 feet of sewer water overtook the finished basement of her West Third Street home.
“We went from being proud and happy homeowners to being completely devastated by the devastation that was left behind,” she said.
To make things worse, the backups came after her husband was sidelined by injuries in an automobile crash and was unable to help with cleanup, and the losses — more than $20,000 — aren’t covered by insurance, she said.
Coburn was one of about 50 residents who flooded the Waterloo City Council chambers during Monday’s meeting, prompting officials to open a divider into an adjacent room to allow for proper social distancing.
Rainstorms June 9 and again June 22 backed up sewers in the Home Park Boulevard neighborhood.
Most residents told of losing washers and dryers, water heaters and furnaces as well as keepsakes, carpeting and drywall. Many said they replaced appliances following the first backup only to lose them again during the second storm.
Several expressed concerns about their health after breathing the fumes during the cleanup.
“How can this be prevented again? Because every time I hear rain, I panic. I do not want to go through this again,” said Janice Judisch.
One woman said the backup killed the pending sale of her home. Another resident is relocating and worries the damage will hurt attempts to sell his home.
David Stoner said his son awoke on a basement couch surrounded by water with his plugged-in xBox gaming console floating nearby.
“Had he slept 15-20 more minutes, he might be dead right now,” Stoner said. “This can never happen again. He could have lost his life.”
His son was able to make his way upstairs without harm.
Residents hit by the backup have filed claims with the city, but as of Monday the total number wasn’t known.
City officials said the problem is likely the result of work to uncouple sanitary sewer lines from storm sewer lines, as was mandated by a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice consent decree. Connections between the two systems were found in the Home Park area and were closed off in September.
In the wake of the basement backups, the city has received approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to reconnect the lines in hopes of handling any future overflows until a permanent fix can be built.
The city is currently modeling possible renovations to the sewer system, although timelines for when the projects would be completed weren’t available.
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