WHO TO CALL
At least for the immediate future — until the city establishes a permanent hotline for flooding — officials are asking residents to contact Matt Zettler at the city by calling 513-785-7586 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to report any flooding their buildings have experienced since 2011.
If you live in Hamilton and your building has flooded since 2011 — including June 2 of this year — city officials want to hear from you about it.
Hamilton officials are taking several approaches in dealing with basement and street flooding after the most recent deluge sent water and sewage into West Side basements.
One of the most important steps is collecting information about whose properties flooded, and why.
Hamilton is required to report to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency all cases of sewage spilling into basements. But Kevin Maynard, the city’s director of public utilities, said officials want to hear even about the ones where just rain water poured into basements.
“We’d like to have people contact us if they’re getting water in their basement either way” since 2011, he said. “Whether or not we have to report that to EPA, we want to be able to help them identify what the cause is, and see what we can do to help them resolve that issue. So it goes above and beyond what we’re required to do by EPA.”
If everyone who was flooded reports what happened, the city will know the full extent of the flooding issues, and will have a better idea which parts of the city to prioritize fixing first.
Even in cases where city sewers were not involved, the city may be able to help with flooding, Maynard said.
“We had an elderly woman who had a crawl space, and she got water in that crawl space,” Maynard said. “We went out, took a look at it. In her case, I think that it’s just surface water surrounding her home, probably due to grading or maybe cracks in the foundation that were letting water get into her crawl space.”
“So we’re working with the Salvation Army and some other folks to see if there can be some assistance here to help either with grading or getting those downspouts redirected so it gets the water away from her home and then she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore,” Maynard said.
HIGHEST PRIORITIES FIRST
City officials already have a pretty good idea what areas to prioritize following the June 2 flooding, but the more information they have about flooding, the better the chances of solving everyone’s problems, they say.
Under current city ordinances, sump pumps and downspouts must be disconnected from the “sanitary sewer” system, which is designed to convey only sewage from toilets and sinks of homes and businesses to sewage treatment plants. Current city laws allow Hamilton to pay up to 50 percent of the property owners’ disconnection costs, capped at $1,000 per property.
Because of the severity of the problem, and to make repair costs less onerous on property owners, Maynard said city staff is speaking with area contractors about the costs of making such repairs, to get a better idea of potential costs building owners face. Based on those discussions, city administrators may recommend to city council that the city increase the amount of repairs that city money would help subsidize.
Even relatively common heavy storms can send a deluge of rain from just one home that’s improperly connected to the sanitary system.
Here’s why improper connections are a problem: When three inches of rain fall, and a typical Hamilton house is improperly connected, that one house can send 4,742 gallons of rain into the sanitary sewers — more than 10 times the amount of waste that one house typically sends into the system in a day.
“They’re not designed to carry those flows,” Maynard said. The storm will fill the sanitary sewers quickly, and send the excess into people’s basements.
TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD
In order to figure out which buildings are improperly connected, city crews will need permission from owners to enter their buildings and use dye tests to see where their sump pumps are pumping water. Just one 1/3-horsepower residential pump can put 40-50 gallons a minute into the sanitary sewers, Maynard said.
Maynard predicted council members will face this problem, as others have in the past: What if a property owner doesn’t want to allow the testing of a property?
“I think that’s been part of the issue in the past, is that folks didn’t want to force that issue,” Maynard said. “But the problem is, if you don’t let us in, and you’ve got the problem, you’re doing this to your neighbors, and that’s not fair to your neighbors. You’re dumping this storm water in that could back-flow into their basement, and cause damage, or clean-up costs.”
City Manager Joshua Smith said spending money today to disconnect improper links will save money by preventing future basement flooding and cleanup costs of properties’ neighbors. It also would avert the city expense of treating rain water — which requires no treatment — from being cleansed at the city’s sewage plant because it entered sanitary sewers.
“That’s why I have no problem going to council and saying, ‘We need to spend X amount of dollars doing this,’” Smith said, “Because you spend the money today, there is a downstream impact tomorrow. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We’re going to be saving money from that point, forward.”
OTHER STEPS AND REACTION
The city is talking with contractors about performing smoke- and dye-testing to determine which buildings are improperly connected to sanitary sewers. City employees also are preparing materials to educate residents about the problem and possible solutions. Also, officials are creating permanent ways for residents and business owners to report future flooding issues.
Jamie Bowling, owner of Sign Addiction, a store on Main Street that has been flooded more than once and now has sand bags in front of the storefront, said she plans to continue paying close attention to what the city does.
“I want to stay up on it, because I want to be sure that something gets done,” she said. “I can’t pick up these sandbags until I know that this building isn’t going to flood anymore.”
She will have to cut out drywall that was saturated by flood waters. But: “I can’t do any of that until I know this water isn’t coming back in.”
City officials have announced they are raising monthly sewer charges by $1 on bills that are sent out Aug. 1. The rates will climb by an additional $1 per month each of the next four Julys.