The Wingnut Anarchist Collective House is located at 2005 Barton Avenue. We have now become victim of one of the symptoms of a failing infrastructure in the City of Richmond.
Many folks are familiar with the numerous problems with the City of Richmond’s public utilities like water- from the flooding that occurred in Battery Park several years ago to the fact that we have the highest minimum water rate in the world and yet most of that money does not go into repairing our ailing sewers.
Last weekend we noticed the water in our downstairs toilet was bubbling up with air bubbles from sewer gas- clearly not supposed to happen. Then on Saturday March 30th, we were doing yard work and discovered, much to our dismay, that on the side of our house the sewer had backed up/built up pressure so much it blew about 10 inches of our clean out pipe clear off and spewed raw sewage in the yard. I immediately called 311 to get folks from the City of Richmond out to deal with the problem.
When the City workers showed up they made me sign paperwork saying I would have to pay them at such and such a rate if the problem were found on my property. I had to take down a section of our fence to give them access to our 2nd clean out that is located in our back yard near the alleyway. They said they were first going to run a plumbing snake through the sewage lines on our property to make sure the problem wasn’t there, because if it was they wouldn’t fix it. They ran the snake from the alley to our house and found no problem. Then our next door neighbor came out and said that the sewer had backed up in his yard as well. Clearly this was a problem outside of any individual property.
Finally the City utility folks got a big truck and ran a big snake through the sewer pipes in the alley, found some massive clog, and dealt with it. I thought it was all taken care of.
Unfortunately I later realized that the City of Richmond had not fixed my broken clean out pipe, or the pile of raw sewage in my yard (both of which were clearly caused by their sewer backup). I was planning to call them on Monday since it was now Easter Sunday and the problem was in a section of yard us and our dogs do not regularly access. I went downstairs and used the toilet in the half bath. None of us had used that toilet since the fiasco the day before, as we tend to use the upstairs toilet more frequently. Rather shockingly, upon flushing, water dumped from the toilet onto the floor. I assumed it was coming from the base of the toilet, like the wax ring had failed. I called 311, and told them I really did need them to come fix the clean out pipe, raw sewage, and look at the damage they had caused to my toilet. I went in the bathroom to move some things around so the City workers would be able to have better access to the toilet. That is when I discovered that a piece of the porcelain from the toilet had been blown off, and was on the bathroom floor. Water leaked when I flushed the toilet because the toilet was missing part of its side! Somehow enough pressure had built up to just blow that part of the toilet clean off.
When the City workers showed up that afternoon, I showed them the toilet and the blown up clean out. They then informed me that they couldn’t do anything about those issues. They got me to put a some dye in the toilet water and flush it so they could look at the clean out near the alley to see how long the water took to get there. Which is when we discovered that the water from the drains in our house is no longer even getting to the alley. Something that either got shoved into our sewer pipes by the back up or their snake or some break along those pipes from the incredible pressure caused by the failing sewer is now preventing our sewage from going where it is supposed to go. So now we can’t use our drains, toilets, or shower for fear of causing a secondary or tertiary problem if our water use ends up backing up somewhere else or leaking somewhere along the way.
We have called a plumber who is supposed to come today, and also begun the process of filing a claim with our insurance company.
Unfortunately for the rest of our community, this is not an isolated issue. We talked to a 3rd neighbor last night who is also having problems with the sewer backing up and not functioning properly. There are many condemned and/or abandoned houses in our neighborhood, so it is hard to get a grasp on how large this problem is, as there is no one in those houses to issue a complaint. A lot of folks who don’t maybe realize that the problems they are experiencing are the City’s fault or who just don’t know to call 311 to get emergency water/sewage help might not be filing complaints.
Human waste is incredibly toxic and full of total coliforms and e. coli. This is a huge public health issue – you can get sick and die! Not only does the city need to pay for the damage to the property, they also need to pay for temporary shelter (like a hotel) for folks who experience these major sewage problems.
We don’t have a quote from a licensed plumber yet, but are hoping to get one day. I renovate houses and can say with confidence that this has easily caused hundreds of dollars of damage. We will have to replace the toilet, possibly some flooring and subflooring around it, get the raw sewage cleaned up, get the cleanout replaced, and figure out where and break/clog is now which could be simple or could involve replacing buried lines.
Our neighborhood, Southern Barton Heights, is largely comprised of working class people of color and low income folks. We have many elderly members of our community as well. Unfortunately, this neighborhood receives more attention by means of the Richmond Police harassing young black men on the street than we do with groceries, jobs, transit, or city utility. Folks in this neighborhood are underserved by the City of Richmond, though we all pay the same minimum 49.40 a month just to have our water/sewer cut on. Scott Burger has been a driving force with a campaign to reduce the monthly minimum rate to encourage conservation and help out low income folks. This point hits home even harder now. If we are paying the same 49.40 a month as everyone else, then we demand that our neighborhood receive the same respect and services as Windsor Farms and all other sections of Richmond. The systematic neglect of certain areas of the city reeks of environmental racism and neglect (and in this case raw human sewage).
On one level, we just want to be able to go to the bathroom and do our dishes. But this issue IS larger than that, and we hope this aspect is not lost to anyone reading this. If folks want to have further conversations around these issues, drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org or 804 303 5449 or come on by 2005 Barton Avenue (go to the bathroom before you head over).