Resilience, restoration, readiness.

Stormwater Inspector Anne Roberto works with a team of employee volunteers planting live stakes along Stickney Creek to stabilize a restored stream bank. Photo by Nicole Harvel.

We’ve never been “just a sewer utility.” The Court Entry that created us in 1972 authorized us to plan, maintain, construct, finance and operate both the regional sanitary sewer and stormwater systems.

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 6119, which governs the District, also authorizes projects such as stream and river bank stabilization, stream flow improvements, impoundments, stream monitoring systems, and other projects to protect water resources and manage water. But it wasn’t an early priority for us 50 years ago.

Given the District’s operational priorities in its first decade, it took some time for us to address stormwater-specific issues. But as early as 1978, we identified 147 drainage-problem locations; by 2002 that number had more than tripled, rising to 513.

Chart graphic. Text reads “147 drainage problem areas in northeast ohio in 1978, 513 drainage problem areas in 2002.”

Our studies in the 1990s and 2000s, including the Regional Intercommunity Drainage Evaluation (RIDE), and hundreds of meetings with local communities to understand both the problems and fixes, led to a cost estimate for addressing these issues at about $228 million.

Still, our Regional Stormwater Management Program was years in the making, said Watershed Programs Director Frank Greenland. It was Executive Director Julius Ciaccia’s decision to proceed with the stormwater program. “We could have just presented the RIDE findings and left it to the individual communities to fix. But we knew little would get done because of a lack of funding and the need to organize on a watershed basis.”

Taken during a Hemlock Creek design inspection in 2022, this image shows the condition of erosion and failing stream banks, common regional stormwater problems being addressed through our program. Photo by Nicole Harvel.

A 2015 Ohio Supreme Court ruling gave the Sewer District the go-ahead to implement the program, which today brings in $46 million a year to address regional erosion, flooding, and pollution issues caused by stormwater runoff.

Our Stormwater Inspection & Maintenance crews regularly examine residential and commercial properties impacted by failing streambanks and other issues. In 2021, over 220 maintenance projects, including debris removal, culvert repairs, were completed, and this year SWIM anticipates completing over 1,300 inspections.

Inspections conducted along our regional stormwater stream network between January and June 2022 (617 inspections).

There’s a lot of work ahead of our Sewer District master planning group which identified $1.36 billion worth of investment needed to address over 300 problem areas throughout our four-watershed service area.

We’re already making steady progress. Since 2017, District-funded projects through the Ohio EPA Section 319 Grant Program have resulted in over 10,000 linear feet of stream restoration, removal of a dam structure, and significant reductions in sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus in our waterways. In addition, the District’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program projects have resulted in thousands of acres of preserved wetlands, stream preservation and stream restoration, and dam removals.

Regional investment has had tangible local impact. Stream restoration, bank stabilizations, floodplain expansion — these projects improve natural function of our waterways, reduce flooding, and enhance communities across our entire service area. When combined with more than $35 million in community cost-share dollars reimbursed for local stormwater improvements, residents and the entire region benefit from a more resilient stream network.

“The ability of our program to identify and tackle problems systematically is maximizing resiliency in our urban stream corridors,” said Matthew Scharver, Deputy Director of Watershed Programs. “We’re getting folks out of harm’s way, protecting infrastructure, and giving streams space to function.”

Story by Michael Uva.

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