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EDITORIAL: Westshore cities addressing sewer, flooding problems

Many Westshore residents awoke Feb. 28 to the most unpleasant sight of flooded basements. In the days and weeks that followed, some residents went to city council meetings or special public meetings scheduled to address the issue.

The combination of heavy rain and melting snow created the equivalent of a 100-year flood, according to the website of the Cleveland forecast office of the National Weather Service.

“A thaw in mid February melted much of the winter snow causing saturated grounds,” the NWS reported. “On Feb. 25, 5-10 inches of heavy wet snow blanketed the area. Around an inch of liquid water was held in the snow pack, with locally up to two inches of water equivalent. During the early morning hours on Feb. 28, most of the snow had melted as temperatures soared into the 50s. Heavy rain and thunderstorms accompanied the warm-up. The region experienced a transition from snow and cold to summer-like weather conditions in only a matter of 2 to 3 days! Rainfall averaged one and a half to two and a half inches in about 6 hours. The combination of saturated soil, rapid snow melt, and heavy rain swelled streams and creeks, and for some, to near record levels in just a few hours.”

The flooding was not limited to the Westshore but afflicted a large path across northern Ohio.

As can often happen during heavy rainstorms, sanitary sewer lines got infiltrated with stormwater. At the Rocky River Wastewater Treatment Plant, the flow rose from a rate of 10.5 million gallons per day (MGD) to 139 MGD in a span of two hours. At around 4 a.m., the flow reached 145 MGD, eclipsing the previous record of 139 MGD set on Aug. 7, 2007.

While officials said the plant operated well under the circumstances, there’s some concern sewage backed up at the plant’s headworks, and officials are studying that possibility and possible remedies.

It’s understandable residents who suffered flooding damage are frustrated and want their cities to do more to prevent future flooding. But one only need look at the recent tsunami that hit Japan to realize that the forces of nature cannot always be tamed.

Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough has noted that his city’s sewers are built to operate during a 10-year rainstorm. No city can afford to build a system to handle what are considered 100-year storms.

Scientists who warn of climate change predict storms will become more severe in the years to come. People who deny climate change theory will not like to hear it, but more intense storms, and more basement flooding, are likely over the coming years.

If that’s the case, Westshore city officials cannot be blamed. We believe local officials are doing just about everything possible to maintain and improve their sewer systems. In recent years, West Life reporters have sat through countless dull meetings in which sewer improvements were discussed.

Some cities, following years of putting off the problem, are playing catch-up in the area of sewer maintenance. But we have to give current Westshore administrations high grades when it comes to addressing the issue. The service and engineering employees of local communities have offered to provide residents an analysis, at no charge, of additional measures homeowners can take to reduce future flooding.

Sewer systems are complex and costly to maintain. The current anemic economic recovery and cuts in tax revenue will make sewer improvement projects all the more difficult to fund. Despite the best efforts of local officials, the issue of sewer maintenance and improvements will not go away anytime soon.

 

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