An Edmonton senior wants the city to pay the cost of clearing the blocked sewer line to her house, because the roots causing the problem are from a city tree.

"If we had a tree and it would ruin the city sewer, they'd be after us, guaranteed." Martha Ropchan said Friday. "I would like to see them pay for it."

Martha and her husband, Alex, have been in the house since 1965. Problems with tree roots causing blockages in the sewer line started just over ten years ago. 

Up until this past summer, the city covered the cost of bringing an EPCOR crew in with a sewer camera to find the blockage, and then use equipment to grind out the roots.

What's changed is that this past summer, the city replaced a portion of the sewer line in front of Ropchan's house in the west Edmonton neighbourhood of High Park.

In August, a month after the sewer work was completed, the sewer line to her home was again blocked by tree roots.

A crew came to the house, cleared the blockage and then put the $305 cost on her EPCOR bill saying the blockage was on her property.

"But we don't have a tree ... so how can it be from our tree?" Ropchan said. "It's from the city tree."

She was told it is the homeowners' responsibility and the program that paid for this in the past is no longer available.

"It's a big problem because I know it's going to happen every year, and it makes a mess downstairs that we have to clean up, " Ropchan said.

She gets water in her basement when the sewer is blocked. 

Martha Ropchan home in west Edmonton

The Ropchans believe roots from a city boulevard tree are causing blockages in the sewer line to their home. (Lydia Neufeld)

Program still exists

The city still has a tree root maintenance program available for homeowners, said Ellen Tian, director of drainage for the City of Edmonton.

Addresses with ongoing tree root problems are flagged and the city then replaces the sewer line outside a home, as it did at the Ropchan house. Once this work is done, the home is no longer eligible for the program, Tian said.

The city takes the view that it has dealt with the problem by replacing the city portion of the sewer line, she added.
There is no exception made for the homeowner who has no trees on their private property.

"I think it's up to the property owner to collect and submit a claim and then we will evaluate," Tian said.

"I think it's up to the property owner to collect and submit a claim and then we will evaluate." - Ellen Tian, director of drainage for the City of Edmonton

That claim can be made through the city's call centre, 311, or through the city's website, she said.

The Ropchans asked to have the sewer line on their property replaced at the same time, at their cost, while the city work was being done last summer, but were told that was not possible.

That is because of liability issues and the possibility of damage to a home, Tian said.

"For some homeowners, we do understand the challenges especially in the mature neighbourhoods," Tian added. "If you encounter frequent tree root problems, consider having the pipe re-lined."

The cost for a contractor to place a sleeve inside the sewer line to prevent tree roots from getting in would cost the homeowner several thousand dollars, she said.

The city will share the cost with the homeowner, but still, most homeowners don't tend to select this option, she said.

"It's a one time fix and then they don't need to worry in the future," she said.

Tree canopy is valuable

Emails were sent to the mayor and to area councillor Andrew Knack last fall by Ropchan. Both elected officials replied, but in their responses neither take the position the city has any responsibility to pay the costs.

When contacted Friday, Knack said the issue may involve making changes to a city utility bylaw.

"I think it's something I will have to follow up on right away," he said.

Getting rid of these trees is not an option for the city, Knack said.

"I think it's something people hold near and dear to their hearts, that tree canopy," Knack said.