Into the Flood

Every spring many of us in the Irvington Neighborhood face flooding.

Flooding can come in many forms including:

  • Weeping basement walls

  • Flooded streets

  • Backflow flooding from our basement drains

Many of us will experience a combination or all of these flooding sources, but the most important source of flood water is the back flow flood from your basement drain. Many of the drainage systems in the Irvington neighborhood were installed before separation of drain water and sewage was required. These older systems are called “Combined” sewer systems, and thusly contain a combination of rainwater and sewage (Both Grey and Black Water).

The reason back flow flooding is an important issue to prepare for is that the water flowing into your basement during a back flow flood is a mixture of rainwater and sewage. So it is important to realize that items exposed to this water should likely be discarded if they cannot be properly cleaned, and properly cleaning your basement after a back flow flood is important to ensure a safe environment for you and your family.

-“Why does this water rush in?”-

When this area receives a high rain volume in a short time, the drainage system is overwhelmed. This may be caused by a blockage at a strategic junction or by an overwhelming amount of rainfall. The water backs up in the system, and usually this backup extends up the line onto the street. This creates a pond effect on the street and provides pressure in the system. With your basement drain connected to this system, it provides an avenue for the water to try and equalize this pressure by flowing into your basement.

More detailed info is available at:

-What not to do-

Some well-meaning residents may head out to the street drain, wade into the pond and attempt to resolve the problem by clearing debris from the drain. While seemingly intuitive, it actually increases the pressure in the system and thereby increases the backflow flood in your basement.

When attempting to decrease pressure in the drain system, anything that slows the water draining off the street will serve to lower system pressure and will lessen the amount of water in your basement during a backflow flood. So the ideal scenario would be to close the drains, not open them further by removing debris. Note that efforts to close a submerged street drain can be dangerous, so the best option is for everyone to stay out of flood water and leave the drain alone.

Remember the clog causing the flood is not on the street, but further down the line buried under the street at a drainage junction. So the goal for well-meaning neighbors should be to keep the drains clear before the rains comes and washes debris into the system. You can also call Citizens Energy at (317) 924-3311 and request they vacuum the drain junctions to ensure adequate water flow.

-“Isn’t there a better way to stop this from happening?”-

There are ways to stop the water from back flowing into your basement, and you know what they say about an ounce of prevention. There are many back flow valves on the market, and while some require expensive installation I have found the simplest one is cheap and works very well when properly installed.

You can buy it here and it can be installed in minutes.

This valve will completely close the drain when water tries to come up through the drain. However water will find another way if it can, so if you have a sink or washer drain pipe plumbed into the system you may consider installing an in-line sump check valve between the open drain and the system. You can get them at Ace Hardware, and you should measure your pipe(s) before heading out so the people at the hardware store can get you what you need. When unsure, contact a plumber for advice and evaluation of your situation.

Lastly, it is almost impossible to stop old basement walls from weeping when the ground gets saturated with rainfall. When the drain is closed to prevent a backflow flood, your weep-water may start to create a secondary flood until the backflow pressure is gone and the drain opens again. Good news is, it is fresh groundwater. Bad news is, is still a flood. So getting at least a small sump pump will cover your bases until the back flow is over.


A sump pump can mean a lot of things. It can mean a small pump that you set on the floor and connect to a garden hose that runs out a window, or it can mean cracking through your basement floor and installing a sump-well, putting a large pump in the bottom and plumbing its drain out of the house somehow. Then you can get battery backup systems to handle water when the power goes out. (I have faced a back flow flood, weeping flood AND a power outage all at once before!!)

This all becomes a balance of risk vs expense, and bear in mind that home owners insurance or renters insurance usually exclude coverage for this situation. So I would check your policy and look into how you can mitigate the risk/loss from these types of flooding. The answer could be as simple as a $15 backflow check valve and storing EVERYTHING on 3’ tall shelves your basement, or spending some bigger cash on everything previously mentioned.

Each situation is different, so take some time to thoroughly evaluate your individual situations, contact a plumber if unsure and tackle the flood head on.

This is Irvington. A Flood WILL happen again.

Be ready, and be safe out there.


Title Image: Photo credit: <a href="">shelly-jo</a> via <a href="">Visual hunt</a> / <a href=""> CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Backflow valve images gathered from via the link provided.