Storm Runoff Issues Key Focus of Neighborhood Program in Cedar Rapids

Neighborhood programs in Cedar Rapids are trying to deal with a persistent issue that has plagued the city for decades: flooded basements and sewage backing up. The issue occurs every few years when the city suffers from massive rains and causes backups along Blake Boulevard and Grande Avenue.

The issue, often disruptive and destructive, has become such a problem that residents have chosen to leave the area. Resale values in the neighborhoods have also dropped because potential homeowners don’t want to deal with basement floods or sewage backing up into their homes.

City officials have initiated a pilot program in the city that will disconnect cross connections that are between gutters and sump pumps and the sanitary sewer systems that run underground. The pilot program will impact 600 homes in an attempt to ease basement flooding.

The cross sections are in violation of the city’s law and do not allow the water to be properly diverted to lawns where it has the potential to be absorbed.

Studies indicate that the sanitary sewage system has a $224 million backlog, with the city reporting 1.2 overflows per month over the last three years. The data includes basement backups and seepage from manhole covers. Cedar Rapids is required, by law, to report these issues to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Other cities have been forced to address similar issues in the state.

Long-term plans in the city include using sewer camera inspection to determine areas of the sewer system that need to be corrected the most. Storm water is seeping through cracks in the pipes that run from main lines to homes, amplifying the issue of water backups.

The city has implemented a parking lot project with the goal of eliminating flash flood concerns.

The parking lot, opened on the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue NE, is covered in paver bricks that are permeable. The bricks have been designed to absorb storm water that falls on the pavers. The bricks are designed to have zero runoff, which will alleviate much of the flooding issues in the area.

Officials have implemented a new storm water fee for non-residential properties. The fees include higher charges for impermeable surfaces. Portions of the fees will be set aside for runoff reduction projects. City officials helped absorb some of the costs of the parking lot for the Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust. The parking lot cost $76,000, with the city fronting 50% of the cost.

The city has provided funding for five runoff projects this year. City estimates suggest that the five projects will be able to absorb 200,000 gallons of storm water with a 1.25″ rain storm. Businesses will save money from lower storm water fees when they reduce runoff.

The programs are just a start for the city, which is suffering from routine flooding in homes and overcapacity of their sewer systems. Flash flood waters have been shown to enter the sewer, causing a major spike in flow meter data.

The city hopes that other businesses will follow a similar plan to reduce storm water and help the city save money over the long-term on storm water overflow.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.