Two weeks ago Brian Schwartz defended a household’s right to pump storm water into the sanitary system when storms sewers are available to them. Last week I wrote complaining he had not returned a call to discuss what really happens in a rain event and how the systems work. I also promised to correct mistakes that were in his “opinion.” Please consider the following my rebuttal, from the perspective not just of a councilman, but of a farmer who has spent my life moving unwanted or excess water away from my livelihood during and after such events.
Mr. Schwartz may not think a single sump pump makes much of a difference (for the record, I was shocked at how many people close to me shared his misconception) but the smallest pump most own, a 1/3hp, puts out 50 gallons per minute. That’s 3,000 gallons per hour! There are an estimated 2,500 homes with sumps. Those homes would pump 7.5 million gallons an hour. If a pump runs five hours during an event 37.5 million gallons would be diverted into the sanitary system. A normal day’s flow at the wastewater plant is 4-6 million gallons. The plant maxes out at 36 million gallons per day. The smallest pumps, five hours per day, overload the system by 6 million gallons. That water cannot go through the plant so it ends up in basements or creeks.
About a year ago, knowing that Brian Schwartz and many thousands of residents would be “upset” to put it mildly to be forced to separate their storm from their sanitary water, I suggested a clay lined “equalization basin” to hold sewer water during an event until it could be treated. I was told it could not be done. All the while a structure, exactly as I had proposed, existed in Shelby, Ohio for exactly that purpose. Not only can it be done, it exists.
The basin would buy time to fix both the storm and sanitary problems. The storm water problem is a combination of nature and a lack of planning, improvements, and maintenance. If we separate, we will need regional detention of storm water in the “old” sections of town to hold storm water until the drainage system can handle it. Just last week I proposed one such location while the city considered a land acquisition.
To emphasize why we need retention, not simply better drainage, imagine how these events would unfold with a hard Northeast wind impeding flow even more due to high lake levels. I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about that “event” (ask anyone who was here in 1969).
Brian Schwartz’s house does not have a sump pump. This means he, like many in Oregon, drains all his storm water into the sanitary system. When residents who could separate storm from sanitary water add to the problem, those like Mr. Schwartz get dumped on. If those same residents simply pumped their storm water in the street, onto city property, Oregon would have to handle it. I would suggest pumping into the street instead of our neighbors basement as a starting point.
I can show you pictures of dozens of sanitary manholes underwater, storm water leaking into them. I can also tell you there are joints and cracks and leakage. The reality is old basements and sump pumps are not the only problem. Last event the city ran huge portable pumps in excess of 12 hours dumping raw sewage into Otter Creek (the City has been doing this for years…..) that is millions of gallons untreated into the creek. We are not going to fix this quickly. The City and/or its residents are going to spend a lot fixing the problem. We should be discussing what is the best and most cost-effective way to fix it, not pointing fingers about the status-quo.
Pumping storm water into the sanitary system when you have a choice is wrong. Mr. Schwartz defending this practice is wrong. Oregon not having a comprehensive plan to fix it and waiting for the EPA to force the issue was also wrong. A year ago I tried to begin a dialogue about what to do. The silence at City Hall was nearly as deafening as the lack of a return call from Mr. Schwartz. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Paul Roman said if you have a choice, you must keep your storm water out of the sanitary system. The article did not say that if you have no access to storm sewers you will be fined--so Mr. Schwartz’s home would not be fined for this. While City Hall is far from perfect or blameless, let’s support solving the problem.