Many cities throughout Missouri are facing the challenges of what to do with all of the excess rainwater. Most inflow and infiltration issues occur during severe storms or long periods of precipitation. The city of St. Louis is in the process of implementing a solution that tackles the problem more aggressively. The city has had to overcome the obstacles that sewer overflows have left behind, which also requires a means to better address these wet weather events. Currently, acreage to absorb storm water is in high demand. In order to create the space needed, the city is now removing many vacant and abandoned homes so that a vast amount of empty lots can be maintained and utilized for absorption and appropriate vegetation. Agencies within the city are collaborating on a variety of uses for the vacant land as green infrastructure will be a vital measure in the reduction of sewer overflows, as well as a resource for further ecological development.
The decreased amount of storm water entering the sewer system can have several other advantageous benefits. A few of these include lessening the occurrences of basement backups, a cutback in claims and claim-related costs associated with backups, reduced treatment costs and the increased capacity of the sewer system. An overabundance of water in the system can leave little room for actual wastewater and cause nuisances such as toilets not flushing properly or poor water drainage in a sink or tub. To help ensure you are better protected from the consequences that stormy weather can bring, there are a few proactive measures you can take. Make sure your rain gutters drain out onto the ground instead of just disappearing underground. If your basement has a floor drain, make sure it doesn’t drain into the sewer system. If you use a sump pump to drain storm water out of your basement or crawlspace, make sure the water is pumped onto the ground outside and not into a sewer line.
The city of St. Louis has many homes that are set on top of hilly landscape and far off driveways, that lead the way to a somewhat hidden home. Several properties are woody, with shrubs and trees lining the entrances. Some of the landscape that is planted is pivotal in avoiding the issues that infiltration of storm water can cause. Residents have also taken to natural preventatives such as rain gardens, creating a proactive barrier to absorb rainwater. Landscaping, trees, shrubs are known to lessen the negative effects of wet weather events into the sewer systems as well as add aesthetic value to properties. Excessive stormwater can worsen flooding, as well as cause a rise to the sea level, promoting shoreline erosion and damage to affected neighborhoods.
The city has implemented a measure to counteract such damages by building a large rain garden in north St. Louis. Last year the city experienced major flooding which created a massive sewer overflow of about 200 million gallons. This was one of the largest nationwide- within a timeframe of over two years, leaving many residents and businesses to regain and rebuild. The widespread flooding was worst along the Meramec River in the southern part of the St. Louis region. An estimate of 7,000 structures were damaged. The city has since been inventive in its approach; putting in place strategies to better protect treatment plants from major floods. A levee built to withstand a 500-year flood was not enough to prevent a ruinous situation.
Interestingly, a rain garden can help prevent low levels of flooding. Most storms that come through St. Louis typically deliver a little over an inch of rain over the course of 24 hours. A garden full of native perennial plants could potentially capture the first inch of rainfall. Generally, the cost to build a rain garden can range from ten to fifteen dollars per square foot. Specific areas of the city are offering a grant program to encourage homeowners, businesses, and organizations in their rainscaping endeavors.
St. Louis is among the U.S. cities where millions of gallons of sewage has flowed into rivers and streams causing a growing concern for better resources to handle this influx. St. Louis and other cities that have trouble handling heavy rains, are implementing better procedures in order to address the dilemma. Recent research has concluded that within the span of approximately a year, the city has encountered more than 60 sewer overflows. The aging combined sewer systems, which exist in many Northeastern and Midwest cities, are in a state of disrepair, thereby increasing the risk of a major overflow. In some cases, the combination of untreated sewage and storm runoff has overflowed into nearby waterways, by way of outfall pipes, or into streets flowing up through storm drains or manholes.
The city plans to spend up to $4 billion- over the next two decades- to repair the county’s sewer system. The upgrades will include rehabilitating old pipes, as well as, the construction of nine large underground tunnels to expand capacity for the city. The primary focus for this effort is to revitalize and protect the city’s infrastructure, homes and businesses. While the city is implementing several safeguarding procedures and sewage system improvements, heavy rains will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. An increase in global warming is also thought to be part of the reason for the increase of dramatic rain events. The city is now evaluating the steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of climate change. Environmental coordinators have suggested that the St. Louis area needs a more comprehensive approach to climate resiliency, such as the use of rain gardens, and other environmentally friendly measures to divert rainwater from sewer systems. Green infrastructure, green space and planting trees have all become a popular and useful means to capture water.
A side note: recently, Lake St. Louis experienced sewer back-ups and other issues due to a camera which became stuck in a pipeline. During a recent assessment of the city’s sewer lines, the camera was lodged in a 10-inch sewer pipe in one of the two lakes contained within Lake St. Louis. City employees have completed the necessary bypass pumping around the lake. When incidents occur that may provoke a sewer overflow, it’s advisable for homeowners to move valuables from basements to higher ground, as a precautionary measure.