For nearly two hours Tuesday, officials from three counties turned their attention to the quantity of water that covers everything from farm fields, streets, residential yards, drainage ditches, and all too often, basements, after even moderate rainstorms.
About 40 representatives of area municipalities, townships, and Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties met in the Northwood administration building to share ideas on how jurisdictions could address the common problem of flooding storm water.
Ed Schimmel, a Northwood city councilmember who served as moderator of the meeting, said that although blockages of ditches and creeks in one jurisdiction often cause problems for an upstream neighbor, the communities need to look at cooperation and “not point fingers.”
He said Northwest Ohio has been hit by three 100-year storms in the past 18 months and the state of the local economy will force officials to look for cost-efficient measures to combat the flooding problem.
(A 100-year storm drops rainfall totals that had a one percent probability of occurring at a location in a given year based on past rain data.)
Gaining access to private property for even routine projects such as ditch maintenance can be time consuming several officials noted.
“All the good ideas in the world won’t work if property owners deny access and you can’t get onto the property,” Bill Myers, a farmer and member of Oregon City Council, said after the meeting.
He said regulations for subdivisions and other developments should include larger setback requirements so buildings and other structures are farther from drainage networks such as ditches and streams.
“That’s something we need to discuss more seriously,” he said.
Judy Hagen, of the City of Perrysburg’s office of litter prevention, said residential rain gardens help reduce the amount of stormwater run-off. The gardens are landscaped areas planted with wild flowers and other native vegetation that soak up rain water. The garden fill with a few inches of water after a storm and the water slowly filters into the ground rather than running off to a storm drain.
She referred to a project undertaken in 2002 in Burnsville, Minnesota where city officials were looking for ways to reduce run-off into Crystal Lake. They chose to install rainwater gardens in a 20-year-old neighborhood. To measure the effectiveness of the gardens, city officials “retrofitted” one area with 17 rainwater gardens and chose a block just one street away to serve as a control site. Two seasons worth of stormwater data were collected from both sites before the gardens were constructed.
Once cuts were made in the curb to allow stormwater to enter the gardens from the street, the amount of runoff entering Crystal Lake from the neighborhood dropped drastically, according to the engineering firm which worked with the city on the project.
Compared to the control street with no gardens, the study street contributes about 90 percent less stormwater to the lake.
Oregon surveys creeks
Paul Roman, Oregon Public Service Director, said the city last year conducted a survey of its major creeks and has determined “where the bottlenecks are.” Still, there remains the question of whether a ditch or stream has sufficient capacity to handle run-off even after being cleaned, he said. Also, the prevalence of heavy clay soils in the area compound flooding problems during the winter when there is little infiltration of stormwater into the frozen ground.
“Everything is acting like a parking lot,” he said.
Northwood Mayor Mark Stoner said neighboring local governments should provide letters of support for other jurisdictions that apply for grant funding for projects to alleviate flooding and for permits from government agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers.
Ray Huber, Wood County Engineer, said he would favor recommending more stringent drainage regulations for subdivisions developed in the future.
David Brunkhorst, Ottawa County Engineer, noted that his county is “on the downstream of everybody here” and if stream and creek outlets into Lake Erie aren’t sufficiently cleared flooding problems will continue even if upstream waterways are deepened and cleared.
For counties, maintenance of ditches along private property can be a time-consuming, cumbersome process, he said, because of how state law is written.
Those attending the meeting agreed to Schimmel’s suggestion for compiling a list of their email addresses to keep in contact.