What Can We Do About Sewer Flooding?

After the August sewer backups, I started researching what we could do to help with the problem of flooded basements.

We need to approach the problem on several levels. While some things we can do seem trivial, the sum total will have an impact.

The most important thing we can do is slow down the water before it enters our storm drains. Our basements flood when too much water enters the system all at once.

Individuals can put in rain barrels or rain gardens. These don’t help a lot, but they help some. This city is looking at a program where residents can buy rain barrels at a reduced cost.

On a larger scale, building bioswales - or even something as simple and cheap as a ditch - can hold a lot of water effectively.

Going one step further, as we redesign city parks, buildings, and roads, we should look to see where we can integrate stormwater retention in the plans. A simple example is to design the parks so they flood in a heavy storm and then drain over the course of a couple of hours.

As we continue to see increased development in the city, I would like us use our PUD ordinance to incentivize builders to add extra stormwater retention in their projects. We also need to make sure we are very careful with any project that reduces the amount of green space in the city.

The city is also looking at incentivizing the installation of backwater valves. I think this is good “insurance” for those that can afford it. To help others, I like the idea of the city offering a subsidy for installation. However, before approving it, I would need to see what it would cost, what we’d have to cut to support it, and if the money could be better spent on larger, city-wide projects.

Finally, we must look at this problem at the regional level. The real solution is to separate our stormwater and sewers systems. We can’t do this by ourselves. This is a difficult project that will take decades to complete and require the cooperation of many players. But just because it is hard does not mean we shouldn’t start the process now.

We will never be able to completely eliminate disasters caused by nature. However, we can and should do what we can to protect ourselves and the community to reduce the frequency and severity of flooding.