We've barely cracked 2013, but already regionalism has notched a victory as Northeast Ohio's stormwater utility went live in January.
In recent times, floods in homes, streets and river banks have come with more frequency, but so too has consensus built for a solution: Treat the entire urbanized metropolitan region as one basin with a common receptacle—Lake Erie, for most of us, our source of daily water.
Fees for the amount of hard surface on our property are starting to show up on our sewer bills. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District expects to collect $38 million a year; 89% of which will go directly to fixing flooding and erosion happening on a community scale.
That's a drop in the bucket for the region's problem, but it’s better than the 'oh, shoot' position for communities who are left holding the bag.
"We have $220 million in flooding and erosion problems across 62 communities because the region has not addressed stormwater," says Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, NEORSD manager of stormwater programs.
"For example, the erosion of Mill Creek at Warner Road is happening right now. It's in the Mill Creek watershed, but Garfield Heights did not cause that. There are nine communities upstream contributing to that. Can we have Garfield Heights do some quick fix? It won't look very good..."
Instead, the Sewer District will produce a master plan and fix it in the right way.
If the region were to focus on one or two things to fix the legacy of stormwater and sewer overflows, what would Dreyfuss-Wells recommend?
"I think, it's making sure any new development we do is cognizant of how runoff is managed," she states. "How we're managing stormwater for this project should be what we're asking right from the start."
Up to this point, developers have not made stormwater a key design question, she adds. "Stormwater management doesn't have to be a luxury item. We need (design/development professionals) to think about it as a component of design. Then it becomes a more interesting question.
"Currently, we do it the cheapest, quickest and least complicated way possible."
Are there ways that municipalities can enforce or at least encourage this goal (which is a goal of the Sewer District's Project Clean Lake)? The District—or another entity with the Bully Pulpit—will have to encourage stormwater best management practices, and elevate that discussion.
"(Cities) can look to improve codes such as preventing downspout disconnnection. No one is to blame; communities were concerned about basement flooding. Now, we know that you can have downspouts...not just disconnected and sending it anywhere, but it's a delivered approach."
Five practical things homeowners can do when disconnecting a downspout that will improve Lake Erie and get a reduction in their stormwater fee:
- Plant a rain garden
- Vegetated filter strips/a bioswale
- Rain barrels or cisterns, and
- Removing impervious surface like a portion of a driveway that you don't use
"It sounds extreme to some, but if each homeowner looked at their property and their runoff just the same as how they look at their leaves or their trash (as a public service they pay to have removed and properly disposed of) the hoped for outcome is better managed (flooding and erosion) problems on a regional basis."
For more information on the Stormwater Management Program, including its purpose, your fee and credits.
In January, GreenCityBlueLake is gathering community feedback on the region's Clean Water agenda.