‘It’s horrific’: Griesbach basements fill with raw sewage water as rain causes backups

Brandon Rideout had to wear fishing waders Saturday afternoon to take a walk around his basement.

It’s flooded with about two feet of sewage water, and it stinks — bad.

Family photos, Christmas decorations and artwork by his two children sit soaked in the murky brown water, which Rideout said started coming up through the drain at about 6:30 p.m. Friday. His washer, dryer, furnace and hot water tank are also ruined.

Rideout’s rental home is one of dozens in the north Edmonton Griesbach neighbourhood that have flooded with human waste.

Sewers in the area have reached capacity after three days of intense rainfall, Epcor said. They don’t know when the issue will be resolved.

“It’s just extremely frustrating that they just started charging us a $20 a month increase for power consumption for sewage drainage. This does not look like sewage drainage,” Rideout said while standing knee-deep in the swamp.

“When I call Epcor, nobody will give me a timeline of when it will be fixed, what they can do to help.”

Brandon Rideout wades into the water that destroyed exercise equipment, camping gear and irreplaceable art made by his children. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Rideout said his questions went unanswered as water levels continued to rise. He doesn’t know if insurance will cover the damage, if his family will be displaced, and if the basement will be sterilized any time soon.

“My house reeks,” he said.

“What are the health risks? This is human feces…. It’s not safe to be down here. Everything down here is now garbage.”

‘They’re unlivable’

Steps away, Suesan Assaf’s wedding dress sits in her basement — now a pool of filth. Some of the materials for her tailoring business are submerged in the putrid water.

Assaf spent much of Saturday on the phone with multiple insurance companies, translating in Arabic for some of her neighbours who are new Canadians.

She said she went door to door, discussing what happened to their homes.

“We can’t use the washroom. We can’t use the water,” Assaf said. “They’re unlivable right now.”

Residents say all 30 units on the block have flooded basements. Houses more than five blocks away have the same issue.

Yet, Epcor said they knew of only 20 affected homes as of Saturday afternoon.

Anthony Nardi, Epcor’s senior manager of drainage operations, said they can’t increase the rate at which they’re pumping the sewage downstream without causing issues to customers further down the line.

“We truly understand this is a terrible situation and a big inconvenience to a lot of customers,” he said, adding additional crews were called in to deal with the mess. “We are working as quick as we can with deploying resources to really resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

Epcor crews were in Griesbach Saturday, pumping water from the sewage system. Ecpor doesn’t have a timeline for when the flooding will be resolved. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

In the meantime, Nardi said people should limit their water use and contact their insurance companies for guidance on managing cleanup.

“We’re really hoping for a period of dry weather so we can draw the system down and start to make some headway with pumping further downstream,” he said.

While Saturday’s dry weather might help with the backups, resident Ed Gee said it made one thing much worse: the smell.

“After we came back from lunch, it was horrific. And I can just imagine it’s going to get worse and worse,” he said.

“We’ve got our insurance company informed. And I guess worst case, we’re going to spend weeks or … [however] long it takes at a hotel until they get the thing under control.”