OAKDALE -- Residents of a quiet block on Hollenbeck Court have pristine views, cool breezes off the Stanislaus River and a lot to complain about.
Raw sewage backs up several times a year and sometimes regurgitates out bathroom drains and a manhole in the street.
Since Bryan Gerdau bought his home three years ago, sewage has backed up into his bathrooms about four times, he said. Most recently, it happened two weeks ago.
Fed up with what they claim are insufficient fixes, Gerdau and other residents are suing the city for damages to their home values totaling $1.8 million.
"We don't feel we should have to pay mortgages on houses we can't sell," Gerdau said. "But the real issue is that (sewage) is flowing into the river."
The California Regional Water Quality Board says the city should have notified the state that some untreated sewer water gurgled from a manhole, ran into a storm drain and out to the river.
City officials say they've tried to fix the problem to no avail.
"Hollenbeck Court is one of the lowest spots in the city. It also has the most desirable lots because residents' back yards face the Stanislaus River," said City Manager Steve Hallam.
The four homes affected are below the sewer lift station elevation that sends wastewater to the treatment plant. Sewage from the homes has to flow uphill in order to be disposed.
The system worked until a storm in 2006 raised the river water level so much it backed up into the storm drain.
"It rained for three days. There was an electrical failure at the lift station and it filled up quickly. Dark, unpleasant stuff came up in shower stalls and got carpets and linoleum wet. (The city) paid for drywall and carpet and other repairs. We did everything we could to make it right," Hallam said.
After the problems in 2006, to ensure that city sewage does not back up into Hollenbeck Court homes again the city installed a check-valve system that closes the homes' sewer lines when it detects sewage heading back through the lines. When the check valve is closed, there is nowhere for wastewater from the houses to go. Eventually, sewage from each house backs up into the house that flushed it.
The city has installed an alarm, a dialing system that alerts city workers and other checks. But they weren't enough in February, when a heavy storm hit the region and water levels rose within hours. The cell phone frequency needed to alert city crews of the problem was down because of the storm. Hours passed before city officials learned there was a problem.
"All of these coincidences happened at once," Hallam said.
Since then, the city has provided residents with a list of emergency phone numbers. The point of the list, which includes Director of Public Works John Word, is to get residents in touch with someone who can handle the situation -- not a recorder.
Gerdau knows the city has tried to help, but the bottom line is that sewage still can run from drains into his shower.
"They just haven't fixed the problem," he said.
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2382.