- Sewer system
- Sewer main renewals
- Sewer cleaning and inspection
- Septic systems
- Identifying manhole covers and catch basins
Our wastewater collection (sewer) system is made up of:
- combined sewers
- interceptor sewers
- separate sewers
- land drainage systems
- lift stations and diversion structures
- combined and separate sewer areas
A system of single pipes that collect both wastewater from homes, businesses and industries as well as surface runoff from rainstorms and snow melt.
There are 79 combined sewer outfalls or outlets to the river system.
The older, central region of Winnipeg is served by 1,037 km of combined sewer pipes.
Prior to 1937, the collected sewage and storm runoff flowed directly into the local river system without being treated.
There are 119 kilometers of interceptor sewers in the city that carry sewage to the three treatment plants.
Weirs, or small dams, were installed in all combined sewers near the outlet of the pipe to divert sewage to the interceptor sewer system during dry weather conditions.
In wet weather conditions, flows are higher because runoff enters the system. A higher flow means the wastewater level in the pipe may become higher than the height of the weir. When this happens, combined sewers overflow to the river system.
Combined sewer overflows occur, on average, 22 times during the year.
The role of the separate sewer system is to collect wastewater from homes, businesses and industries and carry it to a water pollution control centre for treatment.
Since the 1960s, new property developments in the city have been serviced by a two-pipe system.
The sewage or sanitary sewer system has about 1,423 km of dedicated pipes that are completely separate from the land drainage system.
Land drainage sewers
- A system of single pipes that carries rainfall and snow melt runoff from urban areas to the river system.
- There are 1,173 km of land drainage sewers in Winnipeg.
- Because of Winnipeg's relatively flat terrain, it is necessary to pump wastewater using lift stations to the interceptor sewers or to the water pollution control centres.
- The main purpose of a lift station is to raise sewage to a higher level so that it can be moved into a sewer system where it can flow by gravity.
- There are 74 wastewater pumping stations and 10 gravity-based wastewater diversion facilities located throughout the city.
Combined and separate sewer areas
- The combined sewer system services an area of approximately 8,700 hectares or about 31% of the city.
- The separate wastewater and land drainage sewers services an area of approximately 22,300 hectares or about 70% of the city.
Data values are representative of the 2013 Baseline Sewer Network
Sewer main renewals
We replace or repair thousands of meters of older sewer mains each year to:
- reduce sewer backups
- ensure sewer service is available worry free to our customers
- protect the environment
How do we know which sewers to repair or replace?
We have an annual cleaning and inspection program which provides information about the condition of our sewer mains. Sewer pipes in poor condition are put on a list for repair or replacement. After that, they are scheduled each year based on their priority on the list. We also coordinate sewer and water renewals with street renewals as much as possible to avoid digging up new streets.
How many sewers have we inspected?
By 2018, we have inspected approximately 96 per cent of combined sewers, 82 per cent of sanitary sewers, 24 per cent of land drainage sewers and 66 per cent of storm relief sewers.
How much do we spend on the inspection and repair/replacement program?
In 2018, we will spend approximately $18.2 million on our sewer inspection and repair program. Over the past 10 years, we have spent between $12.6 and $18.8 million per year on the program.
Will I be notified if you are going to renew the sewer main on my street?
Yes. We will deliver a printed notice to your home or business a week or so before construction is going to start. The notice will tell you:
- the dates for the project
- lane closures, if any
- changes in services like garbage pick-up and transit, if applicable
- anything you need to do during renewal
- the name of the contractor
- the name and daytime contact information for the project consultant or administrator
- the after hours emergency contact number
How do you coordinate renewals on major streets when access and service to businesses or large customers may be affected by construction?
We communicate with affected customers well in advance of the construction to understand their concerns and minimize the impact on business as much as possible.
How I can find out if the sewer on my street is going to be renewed?
Sewer cleaning and inspection program
What are sewers?
Sewers are underground pipes that carry wastewater from homes and businesses to one of the three pollution control plants where it is treated and then released to the river. Everything you pour down your drains or flush down your toilet goes into a sewer.
Why are you cleaning and inspecting the sewers?
The cleaning and inspection program keeps the sewer system operating efficiently by:
- helping prevent blockages and backups
- removing built-up debris, such as tree roots, grease, grit and sand
- determining the condition of the sewer so we can repair or replace sewers as necessary
How do you clean the sewers?
We use a high-pressure nozzle to flush water down the sewer. The dirt and debris are sucked up through a manhole by a large vacuum truck and taken to the landfill.
How do you inspect the sewers?
We insert a remotely operated video camera into the sewer to record its condition. From the video we can tell if we need to repair or replace the sewer.
Do you clean and inspect the sewers at the same time?
We clean and inspect some sewers at the same time. We clean others and then return within two weeks to inspect them. If we have to return to your street to inspect them, we will leave another notice advising you to take the same precautions to prevent water damage.
How long does it take to clean the sewers on each street?
It usually takes about one day to clean the sewer on each block. However, some sewers can take longer, depending on their size and condition.
Do I need to do anything before you clean/inspect the sewers on my street?
Yes. Occasionally during cleaning and inspection, air pressure in the sewer can cause water to splash out through toilets, sinks and drains. Take the following precautions to prevent water damage in your home:
- Close the lids on all toilet bowls when not in use.
- Insert drain plugs in all sinks and bathtubs when not in use.
- Remove all floor mats in bathrooms.
- Place an old towel around the base of toilets.
- If you have a float plug in your floor drain or a backwater valve installed in your house, ensure that it is free of debris and operating properly.
- Wrap the cover of your basement floor drains with thick plastic (i.e., a freezer bag). Place something heavy over the floor drains to keep the plastic-covered floor drain covers in place.
If you are running your cold water tap to prevent your water line from freezing, run water from a tap at the highest elevation in the house (i.e. main floor or upper level, not basement) without inserting the drain plug. Please follow the precautions above for all remaining fixtures (toilets, sinks, and drains).
You may put things back as they were when the equipment has moved off your block.
Will I notice anything after you have cleaned/inspected the sewers on my street?
Sometimes the sewer cleaning and inspection leaves an odour in the home. If so, run some water down the sink and bathtub drains, flush the toilets, pour a pail of water into each basement floor drain, and open the windows. After a short time, the odour should disappear.
Can I use the toilets and my water while you are cleaning and inspecting the sewer on my block?
Yes. However, be careful as air pressure in the sewer during the cleaning and inspection can sometimes cause water to splash out through toilets, sinks and drains. Remember to close the lids on all toilet bowls when not in use, and insert drain plugs in all sinks and bathtubs when not in use.
How will I know when you are cleaning the sewers on my street?
In most cases, we will put a notice in your mailbox one or two days before we clean the sewers on your street. If we need to clean the sewer quickly because of a blockage, we won't have time to let you know in advance. We will, however, leave you a letter letting you know we cleaned the sewer.
Ways you can protect your home against sewer backup
The sewer cleaning and inspection program is one of the steps that we take to reduce the risk of sewer backup.
There are steps you can take to protect your home against basement flooding, including:
- install a backwater valve and sump pit drainage system
- check and maintain your backwater valve and sump pit drainage system regularly
- improve drainage around your house
When do you clean and inspect the sewers?
We have two types of programs:
- A sewer cleaning program only - we move around the city all year cleaning areas where there are persistent problems and doing emergency work to clear blockages.
A sewer cleaning and inspection program - we clean and inspect sewers in selected areas of the city each year, usually from April to October, Monday to Friday (occasionally Saturdays), from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. On streets with high traffic volumes and high wastewater flow during the day, we may have to do this work at night. We realize that the equipment is very noisy and may disturb residents. Sometimes this cannot be avoided and we appreciate your patience.
There are more than 2,400 kilometres of sewers in Winnipeg. Eventually, all sewer pipes will be cleaned and inspected.
In 2021, we're cleaning and inspecting sewers in these neighbourhoods (indicated in blue):
Contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding this work.
Keep your children away from the sewer equipment at all times.
Your septic system
Septic systems are designed to safely recycle wastewater back into the natural environment. If you don't operate or maintain your septic system properly, it can be dangerous for your family, pose a threat to public health or the environment and affect neighbouring property owners.
A septic system has two parts:
- a septic tank
- a septic field
How does my septic system work?
- The waste separates into sludge, liquid and scum.
- Naturally occurring bacteria break down the sludge and the scum.
- Solids that can't be broken down settle at the bottom and must be pumped out regularly.
- The liquid flows out of the tank into a network of underground pipes that drain into the septic field.
- Naturally occurring 'good' bacteria in the soil feed on and break down harmful chemicals and bacteria, completing the treatment process.
Septic system maintenance and care
There are things you can do to extend the life of your septic system and to enhance its efficiency.
How often should I pump out the septic tank?
Pumping frequency depends on the size of the tank, the number of people living in the house, the amount of water used and the volume of solids in the wastewater. A licensed septic system professional can help you determine the pumping frequency.
When is the best time to pump out the tank?
Pump out the septic tank in summer or early fall. This leaves enough time before winter for the bacteria to start working again.
How can I avoid putting too much water in the tank?
- use the washing machine throughout the week rather than washing many loads on one day
- use dishwashers and washing machines with full loads only
- when replacing washing machines, select a model that uses less water
- take shorter showers rather than baths
- install water-efficient appliances and water-saving devices such as low-flow toilets, and water-saving taps and shower heads
- fix leaks promptly
- don't run water continuously when shaving, brushing teeth or washing fruits/vegetables.
- keep a container of drinking water in the fridge instead of running the tap every time to get cool water
- follow other water conservation practices
What should I keep out of the septic system?
Keep out solids that could clog up the system and chemicals that harm the good bacteria. These include:
- lint (install a filter on your washer)
- prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications
- personal hygiene products
- cat litter
- coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells and other kitchen waste
- fat, grease, oil
- dental floss
- paper towels, newspaper
- disinfectants, bleach, antibacterial cleaners
- harmful chemicals and substances – the danger symbols (e.g., corrosive, explosive, poison, flammable) on the labels can help you identify many harmful products
How do I take care of my septic field?
- Plant grass on your septic field. Water sparingly. Do not plant large trees or shrubs, as their roots can clog the system.
- Keep rainwater runoff away from the septic field. Keep sump pump and foundation drains away from the system as well.
- Keep heavy vehicles and equipment off your field.
- Don't build over the septic field.
- Insulate your system against the cold. Let the grass grow longer to hold the snow or put down a layer (20-30 centimetres / 8-12 inches) of loose hay or straw.
How long does a septic system last?
With proper care and maintenance, your septic tank and field should provide many (20 - 25) years of service. Considering the soil conditions in the Winnipeg area, septic fields can fail in 5 - 10 years if they aren't maintained properly.
How can I tell when my septic system is failing?
Watch for these warning signs...
- Sewage surfacing on lawns or in ditches
- Smell of raw sewage around the yard
- Sewage backing up into toilets, tubs or sinks
- Plumbing fixtures draining slowly
- Soft areas or patches of lush growth on top of the septic field
Never enter a septic tank.
Use a licensed professional for any septic repairs or service. Deadly gases are present in a sewage holding tank.
Is there anything else I can do?
- Use biodegradable or environmentally friendly cleaning products.
- Install an effluent filter in your septic tank to help prevent solids from clogging your septic field.
- Don't use a garburator; it can double the amount of solids in your tank.
- Keep a record of inspections, septic tank pump-outs and any repairs or service.
Contact Manitoba Conservation at 204-945-7100 for more information.
Manhole and sewer drain (catch basin) photos
Solid manhole cover in boulevard
Solid manhole cover in concrete
Open grate cover
Lock and seal cover for
tampering and infiltration protection
Sewer drains (catch basins)
- Sewer drains (catch basins) in combined sewer operation
- Sewer drains (catch basins) in separate sewer operation
Standard curb grate
Standard curb grate and inlet top
Combination frame and gutter grate
Frame and grate combination
Roll-lip grate (straight)
Roll-lip grate (jagged)