When it comes to property owner nightmares, few things are more stressful, inconvenient or damaging than a sewer backup.

While the city prohibits the discharge of any substance likely to cause a sewer obstruction, and actively tries to educate the public about the problems they cause, we can’t absolutely guarantee or prevent backups.

But just in case it happens to you, we have some useful advice.

Before you contact a plumber, call the 24-Hour Public Works Emergency Hotline at 240-314-8567 and let them know you’re reporting a sewer emergency — backed-up sewer lines, line breaks, sewage odors and overflowing manholes fall into that category.

Once notified of a sewer emergency, the city investigates to determine whether or not the backup is in the portion of the lateral or mainline the city maintains. If the problem isn’t in the mainline, or in the city-maintained portion of the lateral line, the property owner will be advised to contact a registered master plumber to locate the stoppage, remove it, and clean out the lateral line.

The City of Rockville makes every effort to be responsive to customers’ needs and concerns when a sewer backup takes place, and has a crew whose sole duty is to inspect, clean and maintain sewers on a daily basis. Unfortunately, because a sewer isn’t a closed system, what’s put into the sewer can cause clogs.

It’s very rare for the city to be liable for damages from sewer backups due to rigorous preventive maintenance that includes high-velocity flushing, video inspection, root sawing, sonar system testing, grease inhibitors, root growth inhibitors, and lining or replacing piping; among others. Because of this, the state specifically requires that all homeowner insurers that sell policies in Maryland offer coverage for water and sewer backup losses, in writing, at the time of application and renewal.

Your homeowners insurance likely excludes coverage for losses as a result of sewer-related backups unless you specifically purchase an endorsement to your policy.

For more comprehensive information on sewer backups, including recommendations for prevention and clean up, see www.rockvillemd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/432.