In the face of an increasingly uncertain climate and unpredictable weather, there has never been a more essential time to focus on protecting stormwater management systems from becoming overwhelmed. Stormwater system management professionals are tasked with keeping the system operating effectively to safeguard properties, infrastructure, and the environment from the potentially devastating impacts of flooding.
In addition to efficient flood prevention strategies, stormwater managers can benefit from understanding common myths, mistakes, and damage resulting from inadequate stormwater system management and care.
Common Stormwater System Myths
Navigating through some common misconceptions regarding stormwater systems is vital in optimizing these systems' maintenance and efficient management. A few myths exist about these systems and their protection from flooding during rainstorms.
Myth #1: Stormwater systems are typically maintenance-free. This is a common misconception, and when a property has little water flow to manage, such as during drier months, this assumption seems perfectly valid. However, stormwater management systems need regular maintenance. Just because the property made it through this year’s wet season without a hitch, problems such as clogs, cracked pipes, and overgrown vegetation could be building up to cause a flooding emergency very soon.
In terms of flood prevention strategies, failure to regularly address the buildup of sediment, trash, pollutants, and other debris can hinder the system’s ability to handle heavy rainfall, increasing the risk of floods. Additionally, when the system does not work efficiently, pollutants and debris overflow and end up where they’re not supposed to be, such as in local waterways, causing other problems.
Myth #2: It rains infrequently, so flooding is not a concern for the stormwater system. Stormwater system managers in dry areas may get in the habit of putting off stormwater system maintenance, thinking that the chance of heavy rain is so slim that they don’t need to worry. However, even if the region rarely has heavy rain, a poorly maintained system filled with branches, trash, sediment, and other blockages will not be able to accommodate the runoff it was designed to handle. Small amounts of water might go through the system, but one heavy rain can cause system failure, flooding, and property damage.
Myth #3: A stormwater system doesn’t need attention until after failure. Some system managers wait until they see signs of flooding to address stormwater system maintenance. While this is tempting, significant damage from an overwhelmed system may have already happened when flooding becomes visible. This situation will likely require costly emergency measures to prevent additional damage.
Mistakes Stormwater System Managers Make
One of the most common mistakes in managing a stormwater system is neglecting regular inspections. Failure to inspect storm drains and catch basins regularly means missing the early signs of clogs, slow drainage, and other issues, which escalates problems and increases the risk of flooding during the next heavy rain storm.
Along with a lack of regular inspections, some managers fail to regularly clean and remove debris from the system components. Whether performing catch basin cleaning to remove sediment and sludge buildup, pulling branches from storm drain grills, or keeping dry ponds mowed, failure to perform these tasks regularly can impede water flow and increase the risk of flooding.
Neglecting to control erosion is another common misstep. Erosion can lead to large amounts of sediment in the system, which builds up and compromises the drainage capacity.
Management may provide incomplete or insufficient training. Staff or contractors responsible for maintaining the stormwater system may not receive enough training to maintain the system as needed. Without it, personnel cannot identify potential issues, perform effective maintenance, or understand the importance of essential proactive work to prevent flooding during heavy rainfall.
Failure to keep adequate records of past maintenance and inspection activities and repairs is another mistake that can make it more difficult for staff to keep the system healthy over time. This issue can lead to missed inspections and maintenance work due to ineffective decision-making and missing historical information.
Damages Caused by Stormwater System Failures
After heavy rains and without any flood prevention strategies, a failing stormwater management system can cause or contribute to water-related damage in various ways.
Water can infiltrate ground-floor apartments, offices, and retail spaces when a property floods. It can inundate lower levels, such as basements, causing damage to the flooring, interior walls and infrastructure, furniture, and belongings. HOA properties may also experience damage to swimming pools, playgrounds, and common areas due to overflows, dirty pooling water, and increased maintenance costs for cleanup work.
Commercial properties may suffer damage to inventory and expensive equipment. If the damage is extensive, companies may also suffer an interruption in their business and corresponding financial losses.
Soil erosion is another concern, and poorly managed stormwater can remove the topsoil in common areas and landscapes. It can also impact and endanger the foundations of buildings, parking lots, and other structures due to weakened support. Trees, shrubs, and other plants can also sustain damage, contributing to the loss of aesthetic value and areas for recreation.
Failing overwhelmed stormwater systems can sustain structural damage to stormwater management components, such as bridges, drainage channels, and culverts.
It is important to note that overflowing stormwater can also increase pollution in local water bodies. Once contaminated, these water sources can pose significant risks to public health.
Strategies for Flood Prevention
Preventing floods with efficient strategies means targeting solutions that have the least waste of time and effort, such as:
1. Regular inspection and maintenance: One of the most efficient strategies to maintain the system and avoid floods involves handling maintenance and inspections by an outside firm. The efficiency of personnel who specialize cannot be understated. They can spot potential issues due to their depth of experience with multiple systems and perform maintenance and repairs more efficiently because they have specialized equipment, training, and experience.
2. Regularly clear out sediment and debris: Implement routine protocols to clean sediment and debris from catch basins and other stormwater devices. Catch basins are the first line of defense in capturing debris and contaminants before they move downstream and pollute local water bodies. Cleaning them regularly maintains drainage efficiency, reduces flood risk, and enhances the performance of the overall stormwater system.
3. Implement strategies to control erosion: Minimize the amount of sediment that can block stormwater structures by using various techniques to stabilize the topsoil, especially around stormwater drains. Use erosion control devices such as sandbags or wattles, mulching, erosion blankets, vegetation, and other techniques to trap the sediment and slow erosion.
4. Install and maintain check valves: Where applicable in the system, check the condition of check valves to prevent water from back-flowing during heavy rainfall. Add these to a regular inspection and maintenance routine.
5. Post-construction care: New construction areas are especially at risk for sedimentation runoff during rainstorms. Implement measures to control erosion, especially where the property has heavy runoff. Additionally, avoid assuming the system is okay because it was recently installed. Regularly check and clean the catch basins and inspect other system components.
6. Upgrade the system to accommodate climate change: Studies show that warmer air from climate change leads to heavier rainfall activity. Analyze the existing system’s capacity and make improvements to expand its capacity to handle larger quantities of water in coming years.
7. Educate and train staff: Provide comprehensive stormwater system training for maintenance personnel. Ensure they can perform maintenance tasks effectively, identify potential issues, and understand the importance and need for proactive flood prevention measures.
8. Inform decision-making with well-kept records: Implement a system to track all system maintenance activities. Include maintenance and cleaning schedules, inspection results, and completed repairs to document the system's history. Use this information to make more precise decisions regarding timing and type of future system work.
9. Collaborate with relevant parties: Most stormwater management systems exist as part of a larger stormwater management network, and collaborating with property managers, municipalities, contractors, and other relevant parties can enhance the collective effort of managing stormwater.
10. Integrate green infrastructure: Take some of the pressure off the stormwater system by keeping water out of it in the first place. Green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales, stop water from running off the property and into the stormwater system. More water can sink in where it lands, and the risk of flooding is reduced because these features absorb and manage excess water while benefiting the environment and underground water stores.
Don't Wait for a System Failure
In your quest for effective stormwater system management, we invite you to partner with CatchAll Environmental. We offer a comprehensive service plan, a patented storm drain insert for quick, efficient, and economical catch basin cleaning, and much more. Don't wait for the next big storm; act now, and let us help you safeguard your property, prevent flooding, and put your stormwater system management on autopilot.