The Pittsburgh region got another 18 months to devise “greener” stormwater runoff plans, so hopefully hundreds of engineers are working day and night.
But sewer officials in Cleveland insisted it was not the right remedy. They described overflows as a “volume-based problem” that overwhelms the sewer system during large storm events while green technology is designed to keep out very small amounts of rainwater. (P-G, Daniel Moore)
That is chapter-and-verse what our own sewer agency officials told the Comet three years ago. There is no question that “source-control” methods like rain barrels, permeable pavements, rain gardens and bioswales are effective and more affordable than new sewer tunnels at the points at which they are located. But how do they fit into a strategy for a region spanning several hundred square miles that is already well-built?
When it rains, it pours, so the challenge isn’t keeping “net” rainfall out of our underground systems; catching 99% of a drizzle doesn’t counteract what happens when it rains sheets and buckets the next day. Those deluges will largely just glide over porous asphalt and slosh through sunflower beds when there is any incline, and into sewer grates. Moreover, think about how many crests and valleys are in your own neighborhood — and imagine planning engineers requisitioning a study on every street corner and crenelation in order to figure out where to put what green device. And then imagine those planners arguing before planning commissions, councils and community groups in each municipality for each instance to convince neighbors and businesses to do what needs done, when maybe they want a pharmacy or a diner there instead.
The mind wobbles. And that’s the scenario if ALCOSAN is excited to take a cleaver to its prior work and dive into the undertaking enthusiastically, which is still unclear. Suddenly 18 months doesn’t seem like such a long time.
I suspect we may have to prioritize our fight for a few massive wins in a few massive areas — like turning Washington Blvd. back into the stream it wants to be, for example, and creating new ponds and wetlands — and then build underground pipes that may be just as wide, only shorter beneath those places.
Of course, there may be more opportunities for deadline extensions. I don’t believe this was our first. Raise your hand if you think it likely that the Environmental Protection Agency will ever roll up Beaver and Preble Ave. with tanks and special forces. It took ten years for the courts to force us to reassess property values, and near as long to try Chuck McCullough.