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Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District officials are asking residents for a favor, especially if they live in older homes.

They want them to check the downspouts on their roofs and the basement sump pump to see if the pipes go into the ground.

If so, then stormwater is going into the house's lateral sewer lines. The lateral lines go into the sanitary sewer line, which goes to waste treatment centers. When it rains hard, sanitary sewers can back up into residential and business basements.

MSD will get rid of these connections at no cost to the homeowners. The program is called Get The Rain Out. It is the start of Project Clear, which was recently announced by MSD.

Project Clear is a 23-year, $4.7 billion initiative to plan and build improvements to improve water quality and eliminate concerns about waste water. The initiative is an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve the area's water quality. The results came after the state of Missouri, the EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed suit against the district in 2007.

The Metropolitan Sewer District plans to spend $80 million to $100 million during the next seven years on Get the Water Out, MSD spokesperson Lance Lecomb said.

The first phase is to look at the so-called inner-ring suburbs and unincorporated areas such as Lemay and Affton that were built after World War II. Many of these homes had storm lines built directly into the lateral lines.

“There's no use looking for someone to blame,” Lecomb said.”That's just the way things were done. Generally, they are older homes, although we've found some connections in newer homes.”

He said up to 30,000 homes in MSD's area could be eligible. The district plans to work with the municipalities and the residents, using mailings and hosting neighborhood meetings.

“This is a community program because most residents are not the original homeowners,” Lecomb said. “It's important they understand what we're doing.”

For the property owner, MSD will confirm the house has stormwater connections to the lateral sewer line. Owners are asked to sign a Disconnection Agreement. Then, MSD will hire a licensed plumber or drain layer to remove the connections. The property owners will be notified when work will start and what to expect.

What generally happens is the sump pump line is redirected out of the house onto the lawn. Downspouts are rebuilt with the water leading into the yard. Any yard drains are reconnected with the main stormwater pipes.

In the older areas of unincorporated St. Louis County, regular stormwater backups happen, but it can be different from street to street, said Barry Ramsey, chief plumbing inspector with the St. Louis County Public Works Department.

“What's good about this program is that sometimes the water can be coming from homes that aren't having any flooding,” Ramsey said. “Their stormwater flows down to a street which gives those houses problems.”

Project Clear is separate from the Public Works Department projects, he said.

Lateral sewer lines also can break down. The county annually repairs more than 800 lateral lines in its unincorporated areas, said Steve Rennekamp, program manager for the county's lateral program.

“Many of the homes we deal with are at least 40 years old,” Rennekamp said. “The lines get old and that's when we we come in.”

For information on Get the Rain Out and Project clear, go to www.ProjectClearSTL.org.