Diagramm of sanitary and storm sewersOne of the consequences of climate change is frequent heavy rain deluges which can overwhelm storm sewers causing flooding, erosion, and damage to property.  Storm water drains along streets and in parking lots divert rain water to nearby rivers and streams, unfortunately without the benefit of sanitary treatment.  Think of it this way:  whatever goes in storm sewers, such as toxins, oils, litter, and fertilizers, ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans.  This debris is detrimental to the health of waterways and ecosystems of the Olentangy watershed as toxins harm wildlife and build up in the river banks and sediment.October is Storm Water Awareness month, and a good time to review some of the steps we can take as residents to minimize the damage to our local waterways during heavy precipitation weather events:

  • Adopt a Storm Drain: Find a nearby storm drain and keep it free of trash, leaves, and sticks.  This prevents clogs at the storm drain, which reduces the chance of street flooding, basement back-ups and damage to property. 
  • Plant native trees, flowers and sedges: Native plants and trees not only provide food and habitat for our wildlife friends, but their extensive roots also absorb rainwater that otherwise might cause flooding.  You can find a list of recommended plants here.
  • Reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers: These chemicals are often washed from your grass and plants into the nearest storm drain, where they will eventually end up in the river and harm wildlife, pollute drinking water and cause algae blooms.
  • Say “no” to coal-tar driveway and parking lot sealants: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, coal-tar sealants are linked to cancer in humans as well birth defects in fish and wildlife who live in or near the water.  The toxic PAH’s in coal-tar sealants are 1,000 times greater than asphalt driveway sealants, which are comparably priced and similarly effective at protecting driveways.  If you are hiring a contractor to seal your driveway, be sure that the contractor does not use high-PHA toxic chemicals such as coal-tar in their sealants.
  • Dispose of household hazardous waste properly: The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio contracts with a  local company to safely dispose of household hazardous waste (HHW) such as chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, batteries, and more.  Visit www.SWACO.org for information on what items are accepted and HHW drop off locations.  Never dump chemicals or fertilizers down the sewer.
  • Minimize use of salts and ice removing chemicals: Many lakes and rivers are contaminated with chloride, a chemical found in driveway and street salts and ice melting products.  The best way to prevent ice on your sidewalks is frequent scraping and shoveling, and if salt is needed, use as little as possible and sweep up the excess before rain events.
  • Pick up litter: During your daily walk, take along a small bag and a litter grabber and pick up trash that otherwise is likely to end up in the storm sewer, and ultimately our rivers, lakes and oceans.  Keep a lookout for cigarette butts and small plastics such as straws, bottle caps, and stirrers that look like food to animals.  Organize a fall and spring litter pick-up event in your neighborhood, or volunteer for a FLOW event within the watershed.

Finally, another concern for our waterways is the city’s aging infrastructure.  Rain water and snow melt can seep into the sanitary system and overload it.  According to the City of Columbus, this excess water enters the sanitary sewer from yards, roofs, downspouts, foundation drains, improperly connected sump pumps, uncapped cleanouts, manhole covers, holes, cracks and breaks in pipes, joint failure, faulty connections and other openings.  Excess flow can cause sewage back-ups in basements of homes or businesses.  Blueprint Columbus is implementing a plan to replace some sanitary sewers, and it is also launching an initiative to install neighborhood rain gardens.  Rain gardens help capture excess water with the help of native plants and reduces the chance of flooding.

Article by Brian Will