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Risk Management Branch

Tree Roots

The City is tasked with the statutory responsibility for publicly owned trees and maintains the City's urban forest in response to these responsibilities. There is a reasonable program in place for the planting, pruning, removal, and maintenance of general health of these publicly owned trees. This program extends to preserving healthy mature trees and preventing the decline of the urban forest. Publicly maintained trees are deemed desirable by City Council, property owners and citizens of Winnipeg in general. It is reasonable to expect tree roots from these trees could have an impact on sewer lines when a line is already structurally compromised. Homeowners own the sewer pipe from their building to the City's sewer main, including the part under their property and the part under City property, and are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of these privately owned sewer lines.

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Privately Owned Sewer Lines

Tree roots are attracted to areas where there is soil, air and water. If there is a broken drain, water or sewer pipe, the roots of a tree are attracted to the leak. Tree roots don't cause breaks in lines, but will take advantage of an existing break which provides a readily available source of water and nutrients.

Privately Owned Driveways or Sidewalks

Water expands when it freezes. Heaving and cracking driveways or walkways are usually caused by the expansion of water in the soil underneath during a freeze cycle. Each freeze-thaw cycle creates cracks or worsens existing cracks. Tree roots are attracted to the already compromised driveway or walkway since these cracks allow water and air to circulate and tree roots move into this additional growing space. Trees are not causing the breaks but will take advantage of a readily available source of water and air.

In other words, tree roots do not cause the initial damage, but will take advantage of existing structural problems if the pre-existing damage is not properly addressed by the homeowner.

If you believe tree roots from a City owned tree may have caused lifting of a sidewalk or driveway and the damage is located within the City owned street allowance or boulevard, there is no liability against the City to pay for these claims but the damage should be reported to the City through 311 to investigate. If the damage is on private property, you can submit a claim through the City's 311 information line to initiate an investigation into whether the City may be liable for these damages.

Discontinued Gratuitous Payments for Private Sewer Augering (Tree Root Claims)

The City of Winnipeg private sewer augering subsidy ended as of January 31, 2013. The removal of this subsidy was adopted by City Council for the 2013 operating budget. Program funding is no longer available.

The City of Winnipeg holds the position that the City is not liable for any costs or damages associated with obstructions in private sewer lines. There is insurance coverage and a number of sewer back up loss prevention options available to citizens to assist in protection of privately owned property. Property owners have the responsibility to implement available and appropriate loss prevention measures for the protection of their property.

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Last update: August 7, 2014