Inspectors will begin examining small sewer lines leading to at least 9,000 homes in Baltimore under a new five-year initiative Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is set to announce Tuesday.
The Department of Public Works is expected to begin the inspections in North Baltimore's Idlewood neighborhood in the coming weeks. Inspectors will use cameras to check for blockages in the lateral lines that connect underground pipes from houses to the sewer system.
The workers won't need access to homeowners' properties, nor will the inspections involve tearing up streets or sidewalks, said Jeffrey Raymond, a public works spokesman. The inspections will involve the public portion of the lines.
Raymond said the inspections are intended to identify sewer problems to prevent future backups. Homeowners will be responsible for pipes on their side of the property line, he said.
"The more we can be proactive, to make sure problem areas are corrected, the more we can prevent sewer backups in the future," Raymond said. "Anyone who has experienced one can tell you it is a welcome investment."
The properties selected for initial inspections have been the subject of previous complaints to the city's 311 call center, Raymond said. Workers will be looking for items that can cause another clog, such as grease blockages or disposable diapers stuck in the lines.
If workers see a problem that needs the homeowner's attention, Raymond said inspectors will alert the property owners. Homeowners selected for the inspections will receive a letter notifying them of the work in the weeks before the service.
The initiative will cost about $500,000 a year, which will be paid for out of the fees that water customers pay on their quarterly bills. The inspections are projected to identify about $4 million a year in additional repairs, replacement and corrective actions, Raymond said.
The inspectors also will be looking to identify cracks and corrosion that occur in the sewer laterals over time. Most of the pipes were installed when the structures were built, an average of 80 years ago.
Madeleine Driscoll, chief of the DPW's utility asset management division, said the inspections will involve one of two approaches. The first and easiest is to send a camera down a tube that sticks out of the ground connected to the sewer lateral — known as a cleanout.
For lines that don't have a cleanout, inspectors will send a robotic device into the sewer line and up the public side of the lateral to assess the condition, she said.
Raymond said he expects that more than 9,000 properties will be inspected over the next five years. That number doesn't include properties that will be inspected as problems arise, he said.
Raymond said the department is looking for ways to improve its operations systemwide.
"We want to make sure we are identifying and correcting problems before they become crises rather than simply responding to problems after they happen," he said. "We know where there have been issues, and if we can make the corrections, we prevent the issues from recurring."