If you have become that there is water leaking from the sidewalk or property fronting your home it is important to begin the investigative stage. There are three common places that the water may be coming from:
The water main
The irrigation system
A neighboring property does not have the proper drainage resulting in rain water backup onto the sidewalk
It is now important to locate the source of the leak and mitigate before the leak causes any additional damage or problems.
Determining the source of your leak
If you water main is leaking you would most likely observe a stream of water either seeping through the joints of your sidewalk or bubbling up in a grass area.
The irrigation system is an easy one to conclude upon. If you feel that your sprinklers are leaking simply turn off the system at the main control valve and if the water leak stops you have the answer. It is suggested to allow the system to drain for a few minutes once the valve is closed before making any determination.
If the water shows up at random and appears to dry up you should become aware of the surrounding area when it is raining. Simply go out to the area where the water is surfacing the next time it rains and see if you observe a stream of water traveling onto the sidewalk. It would be as easy as following the stream to identify the source of the water.
The sewer leak is probably the most challenging of the three as there are a few more variables to consider. Does the area of your water leak smell like sewage or does it appear to be more like clean and fresh water? If any indication that it may smell like sewage it is suggested to complete a video inspection on the inside of your sewer pipe. If the video shows a break in the same area that the water is seeping through the sidewalk it is safe to take the next step.
At this point you should also take a measurement of how far the water is showing up from the point where the camera entered your sewer line. In most cases the camera will enter through the trap of the sewer line which is commonly located near the front foundation wall of the house. The reason for measuring the distance is to determine how close the sewer pipe crack or sewer break is from the point where the water is showing up.
A sewer line break is a lot less likely to surface in the form of a leak at the sidewalk than a water main. The sewer line in many cases is a lot deeper than the water main and if the sewage is leaking it will not necessarily show up as a steady stream of water. It is more common for a broken sewer line to form a sinkhole under the sidewalk.
If there is a problem with drainage from one of the surrounding houses and you feel that the water is creating an issue for you, it is best to contact the owner in a friendly manner and share the issue you are experiencing. In most cases the owner is required to hire an engineer to calculate and complete a set of plans for proper drainage.
Unfortunately in some cases things are not that smooth and attorneys are required to assist in settling the matter.
The irrigation system leak is usually a quick fix completed in a couple of hours by a sprinkler specialist.
Both the water main and sewer leaks are quick fixes yet require a few extra steps as you may need city permits and permission to excavate under the sidewalk or property.
In the case of a water main leak surfacing at the sidewalk you would need a licensed and bonded water main and sewer contractor to begin investigating. In most cases it is determined that the entire water main must be replaced from the roadway, to the house. The reason for the full line replacement as opposed to the repair is due to the age and material of the pipe.
If the water main is leaking the chances are that the pipe is very old and not a wise decision to entertain a repair which may end up leaking again in the near future. If your pipe is less than ten years old it is ok to discuss a repair option with your contractor. The contractor should assist you in understanding the pros and cons for each option.
In the unlikely event that your sewer is creating the water seepage you would follow the same steps as you did with the water main. When dealing with a sewer it is suggested to weigh the pros and cons of the repair as well.
A sewer differs from a water main where it may actually make sense to repair a section of the sewer line even if the pipe is older than 10 years old. It is important to share all of the information you have obtained with your contractor who will assist you in making an educated decision.