Sewer Inflow & Infiltration

Inflow and infiltration are terms used to describe the ways that groundwater and stormwater enter into dedicated wastewater or sanitary sewer systems. Dedicated wastewater or sanitary sewers are pipes located in the street or on easements that are designed strictly to transport wastewater from sanitary fixtures inside your house or place of business. Sanitary fixtures include toilets, sinks, bathtubs, showers and lavatories.


Inflow is storm water that enters into sanitary sewer systems at points of direct connection to the systems. Various sources contribute to the inflow, including footing / foundation drains, roof drains or leaders, downspouts, drains from window wells, outdoor basement stairwells, drains from driveways, groundwater / basement sump pumps, and even streams.

These sources are typically improperly or illegally connected to sanitary sewer systems, via either direct connections or discharge into sinks or tubs that are directly connected to the sewer system. An improper connection lets water from sources other than sanitary fixtures and drains to enter the sanitary sewer system. That water should be entering the stormwater sewer system or allowed to soak into the ground without entering the sanitary sewer system.

Capacity Overload

Improper connections can be made in either residential homes or businesses and can contribute a significant amount of water to sanitary sewer systems. Eight-inch sanitary sewer pipes can adequately move the domestic wastewater flow from up to 200 homes, but only 8 sump pumps operating at full capacity or 6 homes with downspouts connected to the sanitary sewer pipe will overload the capacity of the same 8-inch sewer pipes.

A single sump pump can contribute over 7,000 gallons of water to sanitary sewer systems in a 24-hour period, the equivalent of the average daily flow from 26 homes.


Infiltration is groundwater that enters sanitary sewer systems through cracks and/or leaks in the sanitary sewer pipes. Cracks or leaks in sanitary sewer pipes or manholes may be caused by age-related deterioration, loose joints, poor design, installation or maintenance errors, damage or root infiltration. Groundwater can enter these cracks or leaks wherever sanitary sewer systems lie beneath water tables or the soil above the sewer systems becomes saturated.

Often sewer pipes are installed beneath creeks or streams because they are the lowest point in the area and it is more expensive to install the pipe systems beneath a roadway. These sewer pipes are especially susceptible to infiltration when they crack or break and have been known to drain entire streams into sanitary sewer systems.

Sewer Pipe Lifespan

Average sewer pipes are designed to last about 50 to 80 years, depending on what type of material is used. Often sanitary sewer system pipes along with the lateral pipes attached to households and businesses have gone much longer without inspection or repair and are likely to be cracked or damaged.

Clear Water

Inflow and infiltration water is called "clear water" (although it may be dirty) to distinguish it from normal sanitary sewage water in the sewer system.