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City of Milwaukee Underground Operations General Information


Sewer Cleaning

What is a Backwater?

A backwater is the back-up or back flow of water due to a clog or blockage in the sewer lateral or sewer main that the lateral connects to. All building structures residential or commercial have sewer laterals or pipes which carry wastewater and/or storm water from these buildings to the sewer main in the street. The clogs or blockages refer to anything preventing the gravity flow of water and waste through the building lateral or sewer main. Thus the unfortunate occurrence is a back-up into the buildings basement or living spaces.

What causes a Backwater?

A build up of roots, grease, and other organic substances are the common causes of backwaters in most circumstances. Damaged or broken down pipes can also contribute.

What should a property owner do if they experience a Backwater?

When a backwater occurs, the property owner should call 414 286-CITY to report the incident to the City of Milwaukee, Underground Operations (Sewers). Once citizens supply their name, address, and telephone number, investigators will be dispatched to the location to determine the cause of the backwater. If the back-water is a sanitary back-up (through the basement floor drain or toilet), residents are advised to wear proper protective equipment (rubber gloves, rubber boots, etc.) if water contact is necessary.


What is a Cave-in?

A cave-in is any indentation, collapse, or hole in the surface of any area due to the absence or “void” in the sub-grade material below that surface.

What causes a Cave-in?

Broken, damaged, or collapsed utilities such as water or sewer mains can wash out sub -grade levels of dirt and stone leaving no support for the surface. Natural earth settlement underground can also diminish this support thus leading to caving in surfaces.

What should someone do in case of a Cave-in?

If a cave-in can visibly be seen in the roadway or other surface, please report it by contacting Underground Operations (Sewers) at 414 286-CITY. Sewer Investigators will be dispatched to the location to investigate and properly barricade the area. It is duly noted that unreported cave-ins can be hazardous causing damage to property and/or personal injury. Stay clear of the area and when reporting a cave-in, be as specific as possible with the location.

Clogged Catch Basin-Surface Flooding

Catch Basin Cleaning

What are Catch Basins?

Catch basins and/or storm inlets are underground structures with surface level openings (grates) located at the curb and gutter or alley entrances, designed to maintain or ‘catch’ the roadway drainage of rain and storm water.

What is Surface Flooding?

Surface flooding is a back-up of rain or storm water onto the alley or roadway surface causing small ponds to develop, and sometimes massive flooding in certain low level areas during heavy storms.

What Causes Surface Flooding?

Catch basin or storm inlet surface openings (grates) get clogged or covered with debris or the debris clogs the drains (pipes) causing these structures to back-up water onto the roadway impeding proper drainage.

What can be done when Surface Flooding occurs?

When surface flooding occurs, and debris can visibly be seen covering or clogging the grated opening and it is possible to remove it, doing so could relieve the surface pond or flood, allowing drainage. Please contact Underground Operations at 414 286-CITY in areas where no debris is visible and there is massive flooding. Personnel will be dispatched to the location and respond to the surface flooding.

Connection Check

What is a Connection Check?

A connection check is an investigative function performed by Underground Operation’s (Sewers) personnel to visually inspect any connection made by pipe or lateral to any City of Milwaukee sewer main or structure maintained by Underground Operations.

What is the purpose of a Connection Check?

The main purpose of a connection check is to confirm that proper connection has been made to a City of Milwaukee sewer facility. Maintenance, construction, and repair of building and/or house laterals are the responsibility of the property owner. The City of Milwaukee is only responsible for the lateral at the point of connection to the City sewer main or structure.

Who should call and when?

Property owners and/or plumbing contractors may contact Underground Operations (Sewers) at 414 286-CITY during normal business hours, between 7:00 am – 4:45 pm. No connection checks are done after hours.


What are considered reportable Damages?

The destruction, demolition, or physical removal of any material, pipe, or area of any City of Milwaukee owned facility whereas the structural integrity has been compromised and/or the normal activities and use have been disrupted should be reported as damage to that facility.

How do you report damages?

Damages can be reported by calling 414 286-CITY. Be specific as possible with location and damage that was done to what type of City owned facility. Also have name address and phone number of party responsible for damage along with any other pertinent information available.

Lids and Grates

Sewer Examination

What are loose Lids and Grates?

Lids and grates become loose due to weather conditions, traffic flow, road surface settlement, and the natural aging of metal. Such happenings damage and warp frames resulting in lids and grates not seating properly, rattling and sometimes displacement occurs. Hazardous conditions are also possible with damage to vehicles that run over these loose castings.

What are missing Lids or Grates?

Lids and grates become missing mainly due to theft and/or vandalism. These covers are removed from the frames and sold as scrap iron. This is illegal activity and also very dangerous. The structure that the lid or grate was covering is left open which is a hazard. Vehicle damage or even personal injury can occur.

How do you report loose or missing Lids or Grates?

Please report loose or missing lids or grates as soon as possible by calling 414 286-CITY. Underground Operations (Sewers) will dispatch Investigators to the location to replace the missing lid or grate, or seal the existing loose lid or grate. Un-reported locations can lead to personal hazards and costly vehicle damages.

Lost Items

What are considered Lost Items?

Lost items refer to personal belongings such as keys or other objects that have been dropped into sewer structures and may possibly be retrieved.

When do you report Lost Items?

Lost items can possibly be retrieved only during normal business hours (7:00 am – 4:45 pm) by contacting Underground Operations at 414 286-CITY. An investigator will be dispatched once citizens supply a name, address, and telephone number. Be as specific with your location as possible.

Sewer Odors

Odor Control Services

What are Sewer Odors?

Sewer odors are smells that come from sewer mains or structures that cause unpleasant or irritating conditions in the atmosphere. Some odors can also cause hazardous situations dependant on the substance causing the odor.

What can cause Sewer Odors?

Naturally, with the cleaning, repair, and maintenance of sewer mains and structures, sewage smells and bad odors are common factors. With so many different materials and substances flowing through sewer pipes, odors are on many occasions unavoidable.

Where do you report Sewer Odors?

To report sewer odors please contact Underground Operations at 414 286-CITY. Once the call is received it is immediately dispatched to the sewer investigators. The investigators respond to the call and check the structures in the area to determine if the sewer odor complaint is indeed a City of Milwaukee sewer odor problem. If the odor is from a City sewer structure, the investigators complete a referral form and have the structure scheduled for cleaning.


What are considered miscellaneous reports?

Miscellaneous calls or reports are any service or area not mentioned in the information listed above. Miscellaneous sewer services can be reported to Underground Operations at 414 286-CITY. Investigators will be dispatched to service or answer questions as needed.


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