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The Gazette
Copyright 2002
Monday, November 4, 2002

Bill Vogrin; The Gazette

Lucy Scaranda came home from a business trip Oct. 9 and was shocked when she saw the basement of her home on De Reamer Circle in the Rustic Hills neighborhood.

Water and sewage backed up into her home while she was gone.

Six inches of filth soaked her carpet, sofa, even the clothes and bed in her teen-age son's basement room.

"It was a disaster," Scaranda said.

Water from a broken line under the street inundated a city sewer main and bubbled up in a half-dozen homes in the neighborhood.

The other neighbors started the cleanup, hiring a company that specializes in pumping out basements and repairing these kinds of messes.

Scaranda found the company's business card in her front door and called immediately.

Crews soon were pulling up her 10-year-old carpeting and hauling it out. Sewage-soaked walls were ripped down. Bags of her son's ruined clothes, games and other items were taken.

That's when Scaranda got her second shock.

She was going to have to pay a big chunk of the cost of restoring her house and replacing ruined property.

Her homeowner's insurance won't cover the damage - many policies don't cover damage stemming from an incident that occurs off the premises of the property. In this case, the waterline under the street was to blame, and the policy won't pay.

The city won't cover all the damage either.

In fact, the city normally won't pay anything when a sewer backs up, said John Davis of the city risk management office. Davis is overseeing the claims filed by De Reamor Circle-area residents.

Sewers running from a house to a main line are the responsibility of the homeowner if they break or clog.

Often, sewer backups result from lines clogged by tree roots or misuse of the sewers.

"The reason is simple - we can't control what people put down the sewers," Davis said. "The growing cost was insurmountable."

In the case of De Reamor Circle, the city is paying because it's not a common sewer backup, Davis said.

"This was the result of a water main break," he said. "We're not admitting we did anything wrong. Water main breaks will happen. Pipes will wear out.

"But Colorado Springs Utilities' philosophy is to assist people in those situations."

So if a water main floods your house, the city will help.

"We want to pay what we owe," Davis said. "Our intent is to put our customers back to where they were before the loss."

But only on a "cash-value" basis.

That means it will pay Scaranda what her 10-year-old carpet was worth after a decade worth of wear and tear - not what it will cost to replace the carpet.

"Where am I supposed to buy another 10-year-old carpet to replace mine?" Scaranda asked. "Do they know something I don't know?"

Colorado Springs Utilities thinks it is being fair in making a cash-value reimbursement to victims of broken water lines.

"We are only legally responsible to put you in 'like kind and quality,"' Davis said.

So where does that leave Scaranda, a nurse and single mother, and her neighbors?

Holding the bag ... of clothes, of games and other items. And wondering how they'll replace it all.

"It just doesn't seem fair," she said. "Why do I have to pay when their waterline breaks?"

Davis said the city is trying to be fair.

He has suggestions to avoid similar problems.

First, he said, get sewer lines scoured once a year to prevent an ugly backup.

Second, find out if homeowners' insurance covers damage from wastewater backups - on-premises and off-premises - and for how much damage.

If not, consider buying supplemental insurance.

"It's available for homeowners and renters," Davis said, adding broken waterlines and sewer lines are inevitable as the city's utility infrastructure grows old.

"I can't imagine owning a home," he said, "and not having this coverage."

Looking back, neither can Scaranda.

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