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Question DetailsAsked on 5/16/2017

I live in a home in Cedar Rapids Iowa with whatt I thought was a sink hole in my back yard about three yards from t

kitchen window. I think there may be an old cistern in the area. Can I just fill this hole in with gravel and fix the problem?

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2 Answers



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Answered 3 years ago by Member Services


If it is just an old water cistern yes - but could be an old water well, sewage cesspit/ cesspool, septic or fuel tank (abandoned or active), or a leaking water or sewer line (or collapsing cleanout on a sewer line) or septic system pipe/manifold/access hatch/failing tank causing it. So rather than jusat fill the hole I would excavate down far enough to figure out which it is - being aware if a water well or cesspool/cesspit or cistern that it could be up to maybe about 6 feet in diameter, so if deep there is a substantial risk of falling it if the soil is bridged in it or supported by rotting wood and it falls in.

Can also be a buried storm drain or sewer or water main through your property which is collapsing or letting soil infiltrate into it - one which might not have any surface inlet on your property. Gas and petroleum mains can also do this but obviously you should be smelling gas or fuel if an active one - not necessarily if an abandoned pipeline.

Or course, if you know where your pipes and any buried tanks are that might give a good idea if one of them is the cause, especially if they have inspection hatches or standpipes above ground.

Can also be a large tree stump which was cut off at ground level and is now rotting and forming a sinkhole in the process.

And of course if in soluble rock zone (like limestone or dolomite most commonly, as likely under your area) or over an old underground mine, could be a sinkhole courtesy of mother nature or previous mining. Article from your area on that here -

Can also be a natural (originally) low place the contractor dumped land clearing and/or construction debris during construction now settling in and forming a sinkhole because the debris was just dumped in without compaction, or because of rotting wood forming voids.

I have even seen sinkholes forming over old water tanks and wter heaters and cars which were buried to avoid the cost of hauling them to a junkyard for recycling.

For water/sewer line leaking (water line leak can wash out a void by washing away the fines, sewer by letting soil into the pipe leaving a void over the top) have your utility lines located and see if one goes under or very close to the sink hole.

Could be any of the above - but the 3 yards from house certainly brings to mind cisterns or buried tanks or septic system as a likely cause.

Personally, I would check with local building department and state geologist about mine/sinkhole history in your area, then if nothing definitive from that start digging to discover what it is (with safety harness tied off fairly short in case it is a tank or large opening underneath) - hard to tell if you are hiring someone to do it whether you should go with a laborer or handyman to go down 3 feet (the rough safe limit without trench shoring) or start with an Excavation firm with a backhoe. Obviously, if you don't know what it is, a backhoe is not generally the best way to investigate due to risk of damaging a functioning utility item. In your area, about 4 feet or so should probably either get down to any tank or debris pile or pipeline, or encounter evidence of a well lining or clear round previous hole in the ground from a cistern or such, or show it to be a natural sinkhole.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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