KGUN 9NewsCommunity Inspired JournalismWestside News


Tucson Family's Sewer Surprise Leads to Unexpected Discovery

Blocked up septic tank revealed after more than a decade of residents believing they were connected to sewer
Posted at 6:52 PM, Jul 05, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — For those those living in Tucson, sewer service seems to be a given.

The Prices' thought the same thing, and were surprised to find out that was not the case.

It began with the flush of a toilet and a clogged pipe.

“We woke up and our toilet was stopped up,” said Sarah Price, a Tucson resident. “Since we only have one toilet in the house, like we to call a plumber immediately.”

The plumber sent a camera down the toilet pipe to see what was causing the blockage. But the scope quickly got stuck.

“They said ‘oh your pipe is broken and you’re going to have to dig it up and repair it,’” Sarah said. “So we thought ‘we’ll dig it ourselves and save some money.”

Sarah and her husband Dan began to dig. After an hour or so of digging into the ground, they hit a block of concrete. That’s when they resorted to extreme measures.

“We rented a jackhammer, started busting through the concrete lid and it seemed to be hollow underneath,” Sarah said. “We thought ‘that seems weird. We’ll just keep going.’”

The jackhammering revealed the source of the problem. It wasn’t a sewer they found, but rather septic waste.

“It was basically a five by five-foot cavern full of greasy poo water that was full from about a foot from the top,” Sarah said. “It was alarming to find.”

It was then that Sarah realized that a tree nearby had grown to be enormous over the past few years. Now she knew why.

With the couple having dogs and a child, they moved to cover the newly discovered septic tank. They spent hundreds of dollars replacing the concrete block, then contacted the county to find out what was happening.

“We’d been paying sewer fees to Pima County through our City of Tucson water bill for the eleven years that I’ve owned the house,” she said. “They told us we would need to do a dye test.”

They performed the dye test, which costs around $200 and confirmed that they were not hooked up to the sewer.

“There was a sewer hookup documented on the property,” Sarah said. “But we didn’t have documented evidence that people had actually used the sewer hookup.”

The couple placed a bowling ball in the location of the septic tank as a reminder. They set up an appointment to have the tank cleaned, then attempted to get their money back for not having used the sewer for over a decade.

Sarah exchanged emails with the county for months, trying to find a solution. Eventually they reached an agreement and the Prices were reimbursed for the 11 years of sewer service.

The problem stemmed from this being such an atypical situation.

I’ve come across 8 homes, you know, that had this situation in 22 years,said Olivia Cañez, Project Coordinator for Pima County’s Regional Wastewater Reclamation department.

Cañez has some advice for those who may be in a similar situation or are unsure of where their pipes go.

“I highly recommend that they either get their sewer scoped or have a dye test completed to confirm they are connected to sewer,” said Cañez. “And that they obtain all their previous building plans, utility plans of the home if they’re able to.”

This is especially true for those buying a new home. As the Price’s situation shows, having a sewer hookup doesn’t necessarily mean that sewer service is active.

Cañez also says to contact Wastewater Reclamation’s customer service department at 520-724-6609 or come in person to the department’s office.

Sarah says she learned an important lesson throughout the ordeal.

“It’s important to know what you have underground at your house,” she said with a smile.

Joel Foster is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9 who previously worked as an English teacher in both Boston and the Tucson area. Joel has experience working with web, print and video in the tech, finance, nonprofit and the public sectors. In his off-time, you might catch Joel taking part in Tucson's local comedy scene. Share your story ideas with Joel at, or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.