How City and County Governments Can Work With Property Owners to Prepare for Storm Season
Spring rains are already coming hard and fast. In fact, the first Atlantic tropical storm of 2015 (Ana) hit landfall in South Carolina in May, even though hurricane season does not officially begin until June 1.
During the past week, Texas and Oklahoma have experienced massive and devastating flooding from torrential rains. While the rainfall has put an end to the drought that has plagued Texas for the past five years, the loss of life and damage to personal property, the infrastructure and the environment has devastated the region.
Just as we’ve seen with the flooding in Texas this past week, heavy rainfall can lead to numerous hazards, including flooding and landslides, which puts human lives at risk, causes damage to buildings and our infrastructure, and destroys crops and livestock. In preparation for rainy season, it’s important to understand the risk and damage that high water events can cause and how property owners, along with city and county governments, can work together to prevent unnecessary risk to human life and property damage.
With heavy rains comes flooding, which can impact health and lead to other risks, including: sickness from contaminated drinking water, hazardous material spills, moldy houses, and increased populations of disease-carrying insects and rodents. When streams, rivers, and lakes overflow, dangerous water-borne pathogens can flow into the source of our drinking water.
When these heavy downpours damage sewer systems, the sewage can overflow into local waters where people swim. In Florida, heavy rainfall washes fertilizer and other nutrients into waterways, which eventually leads to toxic algal blooms in the Gulf, threatening the safety of seafood and the ocean where people are playing.
It’s important to understand that swales, ditches, ponds and streams make up what is known as the “open” network of our storm drainage systems, while pipes and culverts are the “closed” conveyances for storm water. Property owners are responsible for maintaining the storm drainage systems, both open and closed, that convey storm water runoff from their private property, while public and private entities maintain the closed water system. After the storm water leaves private property, it may flow into roadside ditches, culverts, curb and gutter systems and storm catch basin grates that are maintained by local cities and counties. So who is responsible for maintaining the conveyance of storm water to make sure it does not contaminate our drinking water or infrastructure? The short answer is – everyone.
How can cities and counties prepare?
City and county government agencies can prepare for heavy rain events by updating and maintaining the infrastructure, improving drinking water safeguards, and creating public plans for what to do in case disaster strikes. According to SD1, Northern Kentucky’s wastewater and storm water managers, some additional safeguards on a pre-storm check list may include:
- Identify areas prone to flooding, such as culverts and grates, etc. and perform frequent preventive inspection and maintenance.
- Clean grates before and after the rain starts to make sure debris has not clogged the grate, which can cause flooding.
- Communicate to property owners and businesses how important it is not to dump debris, grass clippings, construction waste, trimmed tree branches or any other landscaping material over hillsides, into swales, or wooded areas.
- Be on the lookout for any sinkholes or any signs of storm system failure, such as pipes falling apart.
- Make sure that proper drainage designs are implemented in all road construction and resurfacing projects.
How can property owners prepare?
Wet weather preparedness is crucial for property owners, too. Here are a few items that SD1 suggests should be on everyone’s “to do” list:
- Familiarize yourself with your region’s vulnerability to flooding and its local emergency evacuation plans.
- Prepare your own plan — including where your family will stay in case of flooding and what you’ll do if a relative is sickened by contaminated water.
- Check and clean your private drains (such as driveway drains, area drains, gutters and downspouts) before and during a rain event. Heavy rain fall may wash debris back over the grate which could cause flooding.
- If you notice that drains in the public right of way are covered or clogged, contact your city or county to ask them to clear the grate.
- Make sure sump pumps are in working order now. Have a sump pump backup (such as a battery backup) should you lose power during a heavy rain storm.
- Make sure your private laterals (sanitary and/or storm water) are working properly and have a plumber inspect them periodically. Maintaining it helps protect your home and the environment.
- When undertaking outdoor projects, try to choose materials that are not impervious which would increase surface water runoff.
- Call your city or county city or public works manager if there are any sinkholes or any signs of storm system failure, such as pipes coming apart and blocked storm drains.
- Do not discard debris, grass clippings, construction waste, trimmed tree branches or any other landscaping into swales, over hillsides or into wooded areas. This debris will eventually end up in drainage ditches and creeks, which could block inlets or outfalls causing flooding and impact water quality.
- If you see leaves, grass clippings, bottles, trash or other debris in front of a storm drain, please bag it before the next rainfall. Cleaning the surface of the storm drains in your neighborhood can help prevent flooding and protect your property.
If you are a home owner and would like to know more about how you can prepare and protect your family and home during storm season, please click here.
If you would like to learn more about how URETEK Holdings helps governments and property owners repair storm damage, here are some projects where URETEK repaired damage from high water events:
Creighton Road, Pensacola, FL
Shoreline and Hoffman Dr, Gulf Breeze, FL
Naval Air Station, Pensacola, FL
SD1. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2015, from http://www.sd1.org/