Geological Event?!?! Yellow Snow?
I am writing this at 5:00 am, another sleepless night in my dream home turned hell house. I have reached my last straw and am turning to others who may have different experiences or ideas and hoping that they may be able to guide me further with this problem.
I purchased my home in November, 2006. My house is a 40 yr old, 4 level split in an established neighborhood with one level partially underground and the lowest level completely underground. I had a standard inspection of my home before it was purchased. There were only a few minor things wrong, no problems there. The only concern during the inspection was the sump pump drain had been routed into the washing machine drain pipe. It was a code violation so the previous owners made the alteration. The ownerfs claimed that there were no known water/flooding issues with the property on the disclosure. The house is located approximately half way down a substantial hill with each house having a lower elevation to their front yards as you go down the hill.
Everything was going well until February 2007.
I was looking out the rear window the morning following a major ice storm to check the tree branches and power lines, etc... when I looked down into the yard itself I saw that there were huge (20'x40') swaths of snow that had turned a light yellow. I had not seen this before and no, it wasn't dog pee :) I referenced it on Google and the closest correlation I could make with this phenomenon was reports of yellow snow downwind from Chernobyl last year. It barely extended into my neighbors yard, it was all pooled in my yard.
One other event occurred that month. The full bath on one of the lower levels, which is tiled over a slab foundation heaved and tile that had been in place for 40 years. (Someone had put tile over the original tile) and all of it buckled in a 2'x2'area.
As spring thaw occurred, I came home early from work one day I smelled kerosene as soon as I walked in the door. It was incredibly strong the closer I got to the basement. I determined that it was coming from the sump pump pit. Large amounts of a propane substance was pooling into the sump pit coming out of the tiling. I closed off the gas lines to the furnace and hot water heater and called the fire department who in turn called hazmat, who in turn called the DNR. My sump pump water was directed to shoot out the front of the house via a 2" buried pipe. The water coming out was a dark orange with a kerosene product in it, like rust and would not wash off the pavement. This was the second sump pump in 2 months (I'm on sump pump #4) and it had burned out like the first one. The sump pit had been draining every 15 minutes since March and continues to spew the orange water. I have not had any more kerosene since then. There is still a permanent orange stain on the curb, down the street leaving a trail for 20' until it gets to a storm drain. It's not the color of Iowa clay/silt, what clay there is in Iowa is almost always a very light tan color, not the reds like you find further south. No one seems to be able to identify what the orange stuff is.
In speaking with the neighbors, I discovered that the three houses next to mine, but slightly further up the hill, also had just purchased their homes within a few weeks of when I purchased mine. They also informed me that their sump pumps run almost as frequently as mine. (My last house was directly at the bottom of a much steeper hill and that sump pump only kicked on twice in three years.) I am 2+ miles from any rivers or creeks at this new house.
I have a theory about what is wrong. I've had the Water Department, City Engineer, and plumber here many times. For all of the professional resources I've tapped we've been able to eliminate that a water main or storm drain is not broken near my property. We've also been able to determine that it is ground water. My insurance adjuster has spoken with their professional resources and the best guess they have is that there is a geological event occurring under my house that involves ground water (Which isn't covered, of course). I had Roto Rooter come out and scope all of my pipes and also scope the existing tiling. The tiling has completely collapsed in several areas and is blocked by this orangish silt. We also discovered that there was not any tiling around the foundation or perimeter of the house only a section that had been installed sometime during the 90's after the Flood of 93'. Everyone does agree on one thing; to damage the foundation and concrete this extensively in just a few months, there must be a fairly constant amount of enormous pressure under or around the house.
In desperation I went to the City Assessor's website to see if there had been any permits taken out on the house in the past 10 years. I spotted some aerial pics for my property on the web site and zoomed in. These pics were taken in 2001. What was missing was the berm that is now located at the point where my property meets the neighbors in the back yard. Apparently they built this berm within the last 5 years or so.
Since the neighbors behind my property are also down hill of the same major hill, but substantially lower than my property they had essentially built a berm on the cusp of the slope 2' higher than my elevation forcing the water running down the main hill into a tight channel sending thousands of gallons of water shooting the width of my back yard to an apex where there is basically a dam and the water is all being funneled back into our three back yards with my yard catching the brunt of it every time it rains. We think the original design was for the water to hit that apex and shoot down a gulley between my house and another house over a tiling pipe that is only 3" in diameter and go into the street. Obviously there were some design flaws in thier plans.
I called the City Engineer and I showed him where you can still see the original water run through path in the neighbors back yard. The City Engineer agrees that the berm is a violation of city codes pertaining to intentionally redirecting water onto another person's property, but that he either couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it.
I can't get the City Engineer to confirm or deny absolutely that the illegal berm is what has caused all of the damages to my property. He recommends that I pay a geology company thousands of dollars to come out and perform an in-depth analysis of the problem and ground water tables, etc... before going to an attorney.
I'm fairly certain that it was the homeowners who sold this house to the people I bought the house from who may have agreed to this ridiculous scheme of funneling thousands of gallons of water across the back yard to a single undersized tile. So, I'm not sure what copability the owner's I bought the house from have. One of the neighbors did tell me that they had standinging water in their back yard all last summer.
The City Engineer suggested I go over and talk to the neighbors to see if I can get them to lower their berm. That's all nice and sweet, but I am sitting on close to $50,000 in damages for my property alone that aren't covered by homeowner's insurance and my neighbors are also showing damage to their foundation walls. We're going to have to move to temporary housing while my house is jacked up and the failing support wall is removed and repoured. This is way beyond a little neighborly chat. I'm thinking that my neighbors are probably not going to be too happy to have me knock on their door and tell them that they have to get a bull dozer in here, remove the berm under the inspection of the City Engineer's office, and then pay for all the damages, which including my damages, the neighbors damages and the cost of removal of the berm and new landscaping, we're estimating the damages at close to 100k. Imagine how you would react if your neighbor showed up, asked you to tear out a substantial portion of your yard, pay for everyone's damages and be under the supervision of the city during all this. How would you react?
Obviously, this far exceeds the limits of damages available in small claims court. So, if it went to trial as a civil case it will take approximately 12 to 18 months to get to the docket and go to trial. We can't wait that long. We sank our savings and everything we had into these houses we purchased last fall. With the housing market in a slump, we have little to no equity to draw on. If the main basement wall continues to crack at its current rate the house may be unsafe to live in within 6 months and may be condemned.
Everyday this week it has been raining and I watch as the pools of standing water get bigger in my back yard and I'm trying to plug the interior leaks as quickly as I can, but it's like fighting quicksand. Everytime I patch one leak another one pops up.
The yellow snow mystery is from the concentrated runoff of approximately 15 houses worth of fertilizer, herbicide and pesticides from a variety of companies all pooling in my back yard where my dogs and kids run through. The health department tells me that they are 'uncertain' if that level of build up and mixture could pose a health risk.
Specifically, I need to know if anyone knows who or what kind of company could come and make written opinions and estimates on what caused this, what would be necessary to drain off the excess ground water currently in the soil, and how to prevent it from happening in the future and what to do with the removal of the berm.
I also need to know whether the typical homeowner's policies of the offending parties would cover the damages caused by the berm or will we have to sue the neighbors for the damages?
Since we've eliminated just about every other source of water other than a geyser forming under my house, and we are not in an earthquake area, does it seem reasonable that if in a very wet year like this one the rain water would continue to build up to the point of damaging a house? Does it sound like I'm on the right path for solving this or are there other possiblities?
I would appreciate any other ideas or suggestions on what would be the best way to approach the neighbors.
I know its a long post, I'm sorry... But, it is a complex problem with a lot of variables...
Hoping for a dry spot soon!!!