Edmonton

Griesbach residents consider legal action following raw sewage flood

Residents of Edmonton’s Griesbach neighbourhood who were flooded out by sewage after heavy rain backed up the sewer system are considering legal action.

'This is Epcor's fault and it's crummy that they're not taking any accountability'

Griesbach homes were flooded with sewage water in July. Epcor says the sewer backup was the result of heavy rainfall overwhelming a nearby sanitary line. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Residents of Edmonton's Griesbach neighbourhood who were flooded out by sewage after heavy rain backed up the sewer system are considering legal action.

Around 130 basements in the north Edmonton neighbourhood were flooded on Friday, July 19, two days after it had begun to rain heavily.

The volume of water exceeded the capacity of the Epcor sanitary trunk line, forcing raw sewage up drain pipes.

Michelle Miles  — whose rental home filled with more than a metre of raw sewage — is organizing a class action lawsuit against the utility company.

"This is Epcor's fault and it's crummy that they're not taking any accountability," Miles said.

"They flood my house with sewage from all over the area and I can't even get a 10-per-cent discount on my bill."

Miles has canvassed the neighbourhood, gathering names and insurance details, which she submitted to a legal firm.

So far, 25 households have expressed interest in pursuing a case, Miles said. With the list growing, she hopes the action will be certified by a judge. 

"I'm disgusted with Epcor and I don't want to use their service but I don't have a choice," Miles said. "So I'm trying to be a voice for people who don't have one." 

Restoration company workers pump sewage and remove contaminated items from several homes in Griesbach following the flood. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

According to Environment Canada, 79 millimeters of rain fell in the area on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday leading up to the flood. 

Epcor has said the record rainfall was to blame for the sewage back-up. At the storm's peak, the sewer system was working to contain nearly triple the amount of water it normally holds, an Epcor spokesperson said after the flood.

The pumps were running but they couldn't keep up, the company said.

"The system performed as designed but was overloaded by this heavy rain event, at a time when it was already dealing with large volumes from previous wet weather," the company said in a statement Thursday.

"The drainage system across the city experienced high volumes, however, it functioned as designed."

You never think this is going to happen. And now I'm living with the fear that it will happen again.- Michelle Miles

Epcor has said that it intends to expand the trunk line, but construction won't be completed until the end of 2020. 

"This work will redirect the flow of the sanitary system to the east, reducing the potential of a repeat of July's event from occurring in the future," the company said Thursday.

Epcor also said it's not been made aware of any class action lawsuit. 

Miles was home when the basement of her four-bedroom duplex began flooding.

"My deep freeze was floating around in the basement," she said. "The water came up to my hips. 

"We purchased hip waders and went in and tried to rescue as much of our belongings as possible." 

The water destroyed everything in her basement and caused structural damage. With two young daughters and two dogs, Miles didn't feel safe returning to the unit.

A few days later, she and her family moved to a new rental home a few blocks away.

"We were flooded on [July] 19th and by the 24th we figured out that we needed to move," she said. 

"There was just no way we were going to be able to handle the stress of them coming in and doing all the repairs necessary to make the unit liveable." 

Miles had insurance but she said the cost of moving and replacing items sullied by the floodwaters outweigh the payout she will receive. 

She wants additional compensation. 

"My living expenses for the month of July were around the $2,900 range, just for accommodations and extra food," Miles said. 

"You never think this is going to happen. And now I'm living with the fear that it will happen again.

"The anxiety that goes along with this is intense. I mean, every morning I'm going to check my basement."  

'They've done nothing for us'

The flood has been traumatic for residents, said resident Breanna Elrick who is considering joining Miles in a class action.

Elrick's home was flooded with raw sewage which came up to her knees. She remains frustrated by the way Epcor handled the situation. 

"They could have at least paid our deductibles," she said. "They've done nothing for us. We didn't get a credit on our bills, nothing." 

Elrick too was insured, but the flood remains a financial strain on her young family.

"We've been replacing items, but we've had to fork the money out ourselves until they pay us back and that's been a slow process," she said. 

"It's been a long, awful summer … I still get really nervous every time it rains."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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