ST. PETERSBURG — Neighbors on Connecticut Avenue in Shore Acres got an unpleasant surprise when their toilets gurgled and overflowed during a recent sewer mainline cleaning.
It happened twice at Niki Kenney's house.
"I heard some noise and I said, what was that?'' she said.
In one bathroom, "The water was just splashing up.''
She closed the toilet lid, but was unable to get to a second bathroom in time to prevent the clear but foul-smelling water from spilling over.
"It got all on the toilet and all on the floor,'' Kenney said.
When it occurred in the neighborhood again on Thursday, the city dispatched an employee for residents who might have a problem.
Lane Longley, manager of St. Petersburg's wastewater collection system, said he is concerned, but that such incidents are rare.
"This is a side effect of trying to provide really good service to everybody,'' he said.
Under the city's ongoing maintenance schedule, each neighborhood should expect to see a sewer mainline cleaning crew every five to six years, he said.
"Almost all the time residents wouldn't even know they're there,'' Longley said. "In some cases, if the line has some debris in it and causes a mild pressure buildup in the line, you can get a blow back.''
He described a blow back as what happens when the service line to a home becomes pressurized and water in the P-trap (the crooked pipe built into the toilet) and the bowl is expelled.
What flowed out of some toilets on Connecticut Avenue was apparently water that had been sitting in toilet bowls, said Longley, adding that homeowners should wear rubber gloves and use disinfectant for cleanups.
"If you have a more severe incident, or if you're really concerned, then contact the foreman on the site and we'll do what we have to do to minimize the inconvenience,'' he said.
The city sometimes hires professionals to do the cleaning. Claims from serious damage, usually caused when the sewer mainline becomes blocked, are handled by the risk management division.
"Fortunately, those are very, very rare,'' the water resources department manager said.
Tom Collier, a Tampa Bay Times employee, said his Shore Acres home was one of those affected during the recent mainline cleaning.
"It started last Friday. Now it's happening again today,'' he said Thursday.
"The only thing we can do is put the toilet seat down. Even with the toilet seat down, you still get the water washing over the toilet. . . . We had no warning. It gives a horrible smell throughout the house."
Longley said the city notifies residents on some occasions when it is working on the sewer system. Notices are hung on doors before smoke tests, which involve blowing smoke through sewers to detect problems in the system.
There is no notification for routine mainline cleaning, Longley said.
"We would have to have full-time employees putting door hangers on houses,'' he said. "At one point in time, we were trying to do that. I don't think it is possible for us to do that, given the costs of personnel and the costs of printing the door hangers.''
Shore Acres residents should expect crews in the area for another two to three weeks.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.