I found a hole in my yard. A really big, deep hole. Now what?

We bought a house last year and owing to the fact that the last owner – who was very elderly and was his wife’s primary caregiver to boot – passed away in May of 2019, little in the way of yard maintenance had been done in several years. We’ve spent much of the winter gradually trimming, pruning, and clearing everything that’s been slowly taking over.

As we were doing so we found an old sump pit nestled against a fence in the side yard:



It’s about 3’ wide on each side. Poking in it with a long stick tells me that 1) it’s about 4 or 5 feet deep, 2) it’s full of rotting vegetation (as I prodded the bottom it was clear there was a layer of muck down there, bubbles kept rising to the surface, and the water absolutely reeks), and 3) the sides, which are made from untreated 2x6 planks, are starting to cave in.

The house, which is about 10 or 15 feet away from the pit, has a professionally-installed French drain system around the inside of the foundation that leads to a modern sump pit, with a pump, that discharges to the street and then of course into the storm sewer. Thus I’m not particularly worried about water problems – I’ve verified the new sump system works as intended. But now I have the old pit to deal with.

We have pets and kids here so leaving this thing as I found it is a non-starter. The way I see it I have three options:

  1. Build a cover for it and leave it as-is, possibly with a new sump pump installed in it so it doesn’t fill up with water like it is now. There’s no electricity near the pit so it would require either wiring an outlet nearby or running al all-weather extension cord to it, and of course a hose running out away from the house. This is my least favorite choice as I simply don’t want something that dangerous in my yard, plus the sides aren’t stable.

  2. Fill it in. This would involve removing anything inorganic from the pit (I can see an old tomato cage in there, God only knows what else is down there), cutting out and removing the planks that form the sides, and then filling it in with dirt. I’m not sure if this is a good idea as that’s a lot of water that thing is holding that would have to go somewhere if that pit wasn’t there. I assume it was built in that specific location for a specific reason.

  3. LIne it with landscape fabric and then fill it in with gravel but place a proper sump pit (one of the plastic modular things, one with a strong cover) in the hole so that when it is all said and done there would still be a sump pit in that location in case water becomes such an issue that requires an extra pump, but it would be safe for kids and pets. Then if needed I can add a pump and discharge hose to it and run it on an as-needed basis.

I’m strongly leaning towards choice #3. However, I feel like I’m missing something important or some element that I’m overlooking. The water table here is very high so these things are pretty mandatory but since the house has a drain system around the foundation I’ve convinced myself that the old one is superfluous. But again, I’m not an engineer.

Any suggestions, advice, or warnings before I start shoveling dirt and gravel into the hole?

And yes, I will be waiting until late summer when it is dry to do anything with it.

You say it is 4-5’ deep - is it the consistent 3’ diameter all the way down, or does it get larger near the bottom?
Does it appear to be attached to any drainage/sewer lines?
Do you live in a city with smallish lots, or somewhere less dense?
If you pumped out the water, where would it go? Where does a heavy rain go?

You propose a curious situation, and I could imagine addressing it one of 2 different ways, depending on how serious I thought the problem.

My first reaction is to just fill it in. Probably with a good bit of gravel under a top level of topsoil. Don’t overthink it. It is just a water-filled hole, not a toxic waste site. And don’t worry about the stinky water - just make sure a huge volume of it doesn’t dump on a specific neighbor all at once.

Where would it go if you started dumping gravel in the hole? As the water overflowed, would it go primarily into your yard, or under the fence to your neighbors’? What is immediately on the other side of the fences? The back parts of your neighbors’ yards, or patio spaces? I’m imagining the this pit was likely dug in a lower spot.

I’d definitely tell the neighbors what I was planning. Yeah, it will stink for a while, but the stink will lessen quickly.

Second option is to make a big deal about it to ensure you did everything “properly”. (I’m not suggesting actively seeking to bypass applicable regs, but suggesting that you could pretty quickly turn this into a costly time consuming project. You could hire a landscape architect or some kind of a civil engineer to get their opinion. You could search out subdivision plats and surveys for your and adjoining properties. You could get whatever local building department involved.

Any/all of the above are not necessarily a bad idea. And might be a better idea if either of your neighbors says anything other than, “Oh yeah, we had the same thing. Just fill it up.”

Let us know how you proceed.

If you can, figure out if it is still functional or has any piping going to it. It sounds like it’s not, and is obsolete since there is a new sump system in place. I’d fill it in. You might have local guidelines for how to properly fill in an old well. If not,

I’d get my fill material brought in and placed close by first. Sound like a couple cubic yards of fill you’d need, more than what you’d want to take from the existing yard. Then, I’d just hire a septic sucker truck to come in and suck the water out. There are small pickup-truck units that do this all the time. They’ll have it empty in a few minutes, then just start pushing/shoveling your fill in.

It’ll probably start filling back up with ground water immediately, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to pump it out yourself. Get it power-drained and then quickly fill it in.

Also, I don’t see option 1 as a solution. If the water table is high, what would keep the hole from filling - and the pump running - continuously? If you pumped it out, where would the water go? To the surface on your property, or into your home’s drainage system.

Every zoned community I have lived in has code provisions addressing how property owners can deal with surface water/run off. Many places do not all the direct sewer hookup you have. You are fortunate IMO. Do your rain gutters/downspouts also connect to the sewers? A general rule is that you can disperse water on your own property, but cannot direct it towards a neighboring property, or disperse it in a manner that makes things worse for a neighbor. Yeah, in extreme situations, lawyers would get involved.

Another thing is, don’t correct this problem in a manner that creates a problem for your neighbors. Such as - replace the existing hole with a “hill/berm” such that more water flows to your neighbors than presently does. In fact, in that vein, I’d probably consider treating this area somewhat as a “rain garden.” Even after filling the hole, if it is the lowest spot, allow it to remain as somewhat of a depression, where water will collect in the heaviest rains. Can be nicely landscaped with water tolerant plants. Your neighbors should appreciate that as a neighborly gesture.

VERY good suggestions. Especially the delivery of the material AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE! :smiley:

I hadn’t thought of the professional drainage. Possibly not exactly needed, but would cut down n the stank and potential neighbor gripes.

Agree that filling it in is the best course of action. Remove the top one or two planks, but there’s no need to remove all of them. Put a layer of gravel at the bottom, 6 inches of topsoil on top, and whatever clean fill is available for the rest. You’ll probably be topping it off for a few years as it settles.

Pumping it out will certainly make things cleaner, but if it dries out somewhat in summer and you don’t have issues with the overflow running onto the neighbor’s yard, that might not be absolutely necessary.

I think you misread the OP. He is indirectly discharging to the storm sewer system, not directly to the sanitary sewers. Out city has been surveying people’s homes to make sure sump pumps aren’t connected to the sanitary sewer lines. I assume they are requiring remediation if they find it (they were out to our house about a year ago).

Unless the hole is needed for some reason, I would go with this:

And I wouldn’t bother removing whatever is in there, except for the top couple of planks, nor pumping out the water. I would start by putting in some gravel, and then just gradually fill up the hole. I’d stop when enough water was pushed out to make a mess, and then go back in a couple of hours, or the next day, or the next weekend day with nice weather – whatever was convenient.

  1. It appears to have vertical sides, so the base probably has a 3’ diameter as well – this based on poking it with a stick, because of course it’s under water and I can’t actually see it.

  2. There does not appear (again, based on feel) any other infrastructure in the pit. No dischage lines, no outlets from a French drain system. Just a big fugly hole in the ground.

  1. And 4. This is a built-up subdivision and the house is on a largish city lot. Unfortunately there’s no “back 40” that I can route a dischage drain to. Rainwater either flows out to the street or towards the edge of the propery.

Judging by the way water flows in the yard around the pit it appears most or all would stay in my yard. The neighbor’s yard is basically a giant sheet of concrete, as far as I can tell they have no grass or garden area. Just a huge patio. So if anything the rain that falls on his property runs onto mine.

Which, as I’m typing this, I realise may help explain the placement of the pit.

I’d wait until late summer when the water table is lower, rain is essentially non-existent, and the chance of the pit being dry is much greater.

I hadn’t thought of this. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

This is a good question. I had originally thought that, if I did put a sump pump in there, that I would have to run a hose form the pit out to the street which is maybe 40’ away. But now that you mention it, I see no reason that I couldn’t put a proper 2" dischade pipe from the sump pump in the pit to the drain system for the new pump that’s under the house. That system has a dedicated drain line that goes straight from the pupm to the street, so tying into it would be pretty easy.

This assumes I don’t just fill it in.

They dischage onto the ground. I think the house was originally designed to have the gutters drain into a system of pipes that then discharge through the curb at the street, like this. There are several of those drain outlets on the curb in front of the house. Indeed, the new sump pump drains out through one of those. But the current gutters just drain onto the ground.

After a good clean out, and redoing the sides with brick perhaps, consider just half filling it with gravel, then some loamy dirt. Then planting some decorative plants that like really wet conditions. It would look like just a little garden where you could prob grow aquatic type plants without much effort.

Good Luck!

We found a hole too. Long saga.

a hole in my barn floor

That is the most bizzare thing I’ve read in a while. I’m having a hard time visualizing how much space 58 3-gallon buckets would take up, especially in a hole in the ground, but it must’ve been a lot.

Hopefully the buckets came in handy, at least.

One thing to note is that whatever we do WRT filling it in, we’re doing by hand. The only access to yard is through a gate on the other side of the house. I suppose I could tear down the fence, but using a wheelbarrow to move gravel and fill dirt into the hole would likely be easier.

Voting for “fill it with gravel”. You might want to call and see if a septic company would empty it just so you can fill it in one go but they might have a reason for not wanting to (access, sucking in a bunch of unknown material, etc). Then dump a bunch of gravel in there and let it act as a sort of french drain for your neighbor’s runoff. Couple inches of topsoil and plantings optional (put down fabric if you’re going to add soil so it doesn’t all get washed into the gravel over time).

Our town has extensive rules/history regarding stormwater. Wouldn’t be surprised if your neighbor’s concrete exceeded the permitted nonporous coverage, but he’s likely grandfathered.

I don’t believe I misread anything.

My city has similar issues to yours. Some homes (such as mine) are grandfathered such that their drainage tiles are allowed to be connected directly to the sanitary sewers. We do not have a sump pump. The city has enacted new regs covering what can/cannot be connected to the storm sewers. Much water is to be dispersed on the surface of the property. Also, some places have combined sanitary/storm sewers.

This has been a huge issue in our city for some time, with the city spending millions to abate issues which IMO result primarily from overdevelopment.

I think puzzlegal has the best approach. Just have a couple of yards of gravel dumped as close to the gate as possible, and look at it as a workout over the next few days/weeks. I stick by my initial observation that you can make this as easy or as complicated as you wish.

Just outta curiosity, would you give us a general idea where you live? We promise not to stop by unannounced! :wink:

Oh good! I don’t like visitors, even announced ones.
(Not really).

I live outside of Roseburg, Oregon. Unincorporated county, but still a rather built-up subdivion.

The sump pump system that is currently in use discharges to the street where it then runs into the storm sewer. Whether or not those are connected to the saitary sewers I do not know. I kind of doubt it simply becasue we historically get a lot of rain here and I imagine a combined sewer system would overwhelm the treatment plants. But that’s a total WAG, I really don’t know.

I have a niece who lives N of Eugene in Albany. Yes, the rain you experience - and your community’s methods of dealing with it - likely differ from other parts of the country. They have been strategizing about water since they moved in 5 yrs ago or so.

Good luck. Just fill it in and don’t think twice.

Of course, from what I hear, if things keep going like last summer you might welcome having a source of supplemental water on your property! (Too soon? :wink:)

People keep saying gravel but I would fill it with round river rock. The water will be there every year , might as well let it move a little easier and the price will be comparable.

Much good advice so far, but I have a different approach. Build a nice, sturdy, safe cover. Construct a party area in that corner of your yard; tiki torches, a picnic table, a hammock, whatever.

Now, cut a 3 or 4 inch diameter hole in the center of the pit cover. Securely mount a bottomless trash can over the hole.

When the pit is filled with beer bottles and cans, remove the pit covering. Throw some topsoil and grass seed.