When Life Hands you Sewage, do NOT Make Lemonade.
The Bay County Department of Water and Sewage can pump 18 million gallons of water per minute. A nice lady at the department told me that. Seems they were pumping at that capacity so no one was available to come over to my house where we were having something of a crisis. Since no one was available, I asked if they could at least stop pumping it into my basement.
The rainy season is upon us. Maybe it’s global warming, but Michigan is apparently now in the monsoon belt. We can expect rain twice a year and one of those times is upon us.
It started Wednesday when I discovered that my sump pump wasn’t running. Water was pouring out of the sump basin onto the floor. So I lifted the plastic cover of the sump basin to have a look. To my surprise, this started the pump running again which was fortunate because lifting the cover is the extent of my sump pump repair skills. Having fixed the pump, I turned to squeegeeing water into the sump basin and then removing wet items from the floor. It was lovely evening. But as it turns out, this was merely a prelude, a dark foreshadowing of things to come.
Friday morning, 11:35am: I receive a frantic and worryingly cryptic text from my wife: “we are having a CRISIS, call me.” This wasn’t the first time I noticed a certain similarity between texts from my wife and telegrams in P.G. Wodehouse novels, or old film noir: short and dramatic, but ambiguous, hence subject to misunderstanding. I wasn’t TOO worried because my wife and I have different scales for measuring crises. Still, it didn’t sound good.
When I called home, my youngest son answered. He explained that there was more water coming into the basement. I was a little confused because I’d already fixed the sump pump, and he confirmed the pump was still running. Then I heard my wife in the background shrieking something about standing on a geyser of water and sewage. I decided to head home to have a look for myself.
Our basement isn’t finished, but we have capped off drains in place for adding a basement bathroom. When I got home I discovered my wife, in flip flops with plastic bags for socks, standing on one of these caps, the big one, six inches in diameter. I surveyed the scene. About an inch of water, more in some areas, less in others. Disaster as far as the eye could see.
My wife explained that she had discovered a geyser of sewage shooting up from the drain. Somehow she had managed to find the cap, push it back down on the drain, and get on top of it to push back against the geyser. Water was still spraying out around the circumference, but at least the flow, as well as the bigger…particles, had been cut down. “Good work,” I said. “Stay on top of it.”
After a false start trying to pump the water out with a transfer pump, I put the shop vac into action. It only takes about 30 seconds to suck up the 12 gallons it holds. I would fill it up, lug it over to the sump and dump it in. But 12 gallons of sewage is really heavy. I did that maybe 10 times before thinking to mount the shop vac on the wheelbarrow. It was like going from the infantry to cavalry. With my wife taming the geyser, and me removing 12 gallons every couple minutes, we were removing more than was coming in, and consequently winning the battle.
As we fought the sewage, help arrived. My wife had been riding the geyser for some time, so my mother-in-law volunteered to take a shift standing on the cap. We discovered that shift changes were a time of great vulnerability. They maneuvered delicately, but lost control, the cap slipped off and the geyser re-erupted. I hadn’t seen the full fury of the geyser until now. It shot an impressive volume of sewage about two feet high. I dropped the shop vac hose and rushed into the breach. I’ve never worked on an oil rig, but I have an idea now of how a wildcatter must feel trying to tame a gusher. I wonder what oil tastes like? It’s almost impossible not to get a tiny taste when you’re battling a gusher.
We decided there could be no more shift changes, but we had no idea how long it would rain, or how long it would take the department of water and sewage to relieve the pressure. We had to find a solution to the problem of the geyser.
My father in law suggested wedging a 2” x 4” between the cap and ceiling. He tried but the pressure was too much. I thought that if we could get something in the drain to cut down the flow, it might work. I took a bath mat, rolled it up and went in.
Do you remember the water weenie? Water filled rubber toy that you couldn’t do anything with, including hold. That’s what the bath mat turned into as I tried to force it into the drain. Sewage spewed on me with greater force as I narrowed its opportunity for escape. I’d get most of the mat stuffed in the drain, try to get the last bit in, and then some other section would squirt out. Eventually, I got it all down. And once it was in, it was easier to keep the cap on. Wedged the 2” x 4” between the cap and the floor joist and the geyser became a trickle.
Life handed us a lot of sewage in our basement. We did NOT make lemonade. We just, ah, cleaned it up. Well, we’re still cleaning it up. Throwing stuff away. In fact, the dumpster is in the driveway now and it’s calling my name…