water cycle issues

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 01/18/2007 - 15:55.

Today in the PD, you can read about what we knew was coming in the news from NEORSD.

What I don’t get is why NEORSD insists on treating all the stormwater – the water that runs off our roofs and into the aging storm sewers and combined sewers doesn’t need to be treated. NEORSD should be encouraging reductions in the amount of stormwater they have to treat. Roof water should be able to flow directly onto lawns in residential neighborhoods as it does in most cities. Most cities have asked citizens to disconnect their downspouts and divert roof water to their lawns, or in wetter areas to rain barrels or rain gardens. In Boston, they will do the disconnection for you if you don’t do it yourself – free of charge. They don’t want the expense of treating all that roof water. In Ann Arbor, you have to have a permit to be connected to the sewer. Why are we insistent on paying more to treat water that does not need to be treated?

How much water flows through those gutters and downspouts to the sewer you’re wondering… In a 1 inch rainfall, 700 gallons runs off a 1200 sq ft roof.

Here is just one example among many for cities in North America that suggest or require diversion of roof water from the storm sewers.

Now we have the summer sprinkling program that offers a discount for lawn sprinkling water use because it does not go into the sewer. How about a discount for diverted roof drains or downspouts or rain water harvesting?

They (NEORSD Board) appear to be wringing their hands about massive increases to their own work, work force development without federal aid where the cost is passed on to the consumer. But as usual in Northeast Ohio, the citizen, average consumer is knee capped, unable to help the system or himself; waiting, if you will, for some patriarch, some feudal lord to tell him how to solve the problem.

Now is a great time to get all the weekend warriors in line with downspout elbows and splash pads at local hardware stores. Now is the time to see the really truly determined homeowners building rain gardens and installing rain barrels. It is time now for Northeast Ohioans to realize that we live in a watershed, and that we all need to begin thinking about how we can help to conserve not just our cash, but our precious water resources as well.

Problem is; it is against building code to disconnect your downspout in Cleveland and most municipalities in Northeast Ohio. Are we living in the dark ages?!!??

People say to me, “I’ll flood my neighbor’s basement”. But, if they do it in most other major cities and many smaller ones, too, then shouldn’t we add it to the mix of EPA Best Management Practices we are implementing for stormwater planning? It isn’t going to fix the problem and will only divert some water from the storm drains (and not the dastardly nitrate rich runoff that is killing the lake), but it is a means to educate residents about their watershed. It is a way to involve citizens in making a better future for the region.

Let’s stop wringing our hands and get on with our education! Stop trying to fix every issue with top down measures and let the innovation bubble up from the grassroots.

And this…

What’s wrong with this picture?

Portage County:

Cleveland will sell them water

read about that here on GCBL.

Why? Is the aquifer drained from all the overzealous pumping?


“Windham to pay $10,000 penalty to Ohio EPA

Windham, a village in Portage County, will pay a $10,000 penalty to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Water Act. A recently completed sewer line should prevent more problems, the OEPA said in a news release. An old, smaller line allowed sewage to back up into homes and businesses and spewed sewage into the south fork of Eagle Creek, the environmental agency said.--Donna J. Miller, djmiller [at] plaind [dot] com”

How about rewarding good behavior in the civic space? Cleveland might have had the opportunity to leverage their water resources, when agreeing to sell water to Portage County. It appears we may not “get” the value of our most precious natural resource in the region – H2O.

( categories: )


The cost of the civil engineering structures (interest on the construction bond, engineering, pipes, pumps, land, roadway excavation and repaving, sediment retention and removal, etc, etc) required to handle storm water can be reduced to a $ per gallon number.  Whatever that number per gallon is – let’s say $10.00 per gallon -  it would make economic sense for  NEORSD to offer to pay that cost (or a portion of it) over time to any ratepayer who competently retained storm water on the ratepayer’s private property. 


For example, if a residential ratepayer constructed a slight berm in their front lawn area which resulted in the retention of that 1” rain off their 1,200SF roof – you mention 700 gallons – then that ratepayer would be granted a proportional credit against their NEORSD taxes.  Handling storm water locally is much less expensive and more efficient that building massive storm water infrastructure and maintain same.  The front lawn berm would be an “easement”- like condition added to the deed, with bi annual inspections to ensure that it was functioning.   If the berm was removed, the tax credit would halt. 


Let’s give private homeowners and business an economic incentive to diminish regional storm water volume/velocity.   I would re-contour my lawn ASAP if it reduced my tax for storm water and/or sewer infrastructure!

Demand side management

Good ideas. Ronn Richard made a point today that the energy companies make more money the more gas and electricity they sell, and the same applies to water systems. So they are planning to expand and grow their revenues and size at the same time. But I believe Andrew Watterson works in that department so he must be interested in some of these ideas. Have you talked to him about this?

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NEORSD sendning money down the drain

I know this series of comments and the original posting have been about ways we can help the sewer district deal with the massive problem we face with sewerage and water quality, but as we organize to lend a hand, here is a crack where the light gets in on what's happening that is not community education:

Trustee rips sewer district spending

Friday, March 16, 2007

Michael Scott

Plain Dealer Reporter

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has overspent by $18 million on construction contracts over the last seven years, one of its trustees said Thursday.

That overage doesn't even include a 1999 project that was supposed to be $300,000, but eventually cost $1.15 million - an increase of 285 percent.

Outspoken Trustee Gary Starr, mayor of Middleburg Heights, used those cost-overrun figures to continue his ongoing crusade for financial reform at the district, which recently approved a five-year, 50 percent rate increase for its 330,000 customers in Cleveland and 59 other communities.

"After looking at this for only the last six months, I'm angry," said Starr, a longtime sewer district trustee. "I've become passionate about it because I believe we need to change the way we spend our money and we've had some contracts go way, way over."

Sewer district figures released at the trustees' semimonthly meeting confirmed Starr's charges, but district officials interpreted the numbers differently.

Executive Director Erwin Odeal said cost overruns, referred to as contract "change orders" by the district, usually average out over time.

"Some jobs come in high, some come in low and we bring every change order before this board for approval," Odeal said. "I think we've done a credible job managing costs."

District officials released a report Thursday showing that total project cost overruns in the last 23 years averaged 3.5 percent - from a high of 14 percent over in 2003 to a low of 4 percent below cost estimates in 1996.

The $18 million that Starr referred to represents cost overruns of 6.6 percent during the last seven years, records show.

Still, Starr said, cost overruns on specific jobs within that average - particularly in recent years - have been unacceptably high.

"What is our standard? Is it 5 percent over? Maybe 10 percent over?" he asked, suggesting to district officials that the industry standard for every job should be about 7 percent.

Uh... I guess they have some internal work to do on the spending and accounting side. I believe that we will need work on the sewer infrastructure, but maybe discussion of how homeowners and businesses can help will have its day sooner than later.

Martha and I talked to Watterson and his law director Fran DiDonato. He said he plans to discuss downspout disconnects in a PD interview with John Kuehner on the water department that should be out in April. Stay tuned... We gave him a document that outlines incentives for reductions in sewerage rates for disconnecting and I thought that that might have to wait, but hey... maybe now is a good time for us to forward that to the NEORSD. We might need incentives to lend a hand if this is how the business is working there.

Remember the Talking Heads lyric from Once In A Lifetime "water flowing underground... same as it ever was"? Well, this is apparently money flowing underground -- same as it ever was.

I saw this and thought about this REALNEO discussion

What the PD and it seems the Trustees don't get is demand side management. Reduce the flow into sewer services and costs will decline. Shrinking city - stalled region - demand side management - sewer burdens should decline. Cut the sprawlers off from the system and focus on doing a better job of processing all the core sewage and filthy run-off that today gushes into public waterways... that is the priority.

Looking forward to the next 1,000 year floods... probably later this year.  A few years of 1,000 year floods and they will be known as annual floods and the Trustees will get a clue about what matters, which is not 10% construction cost overruns (which sounds low by muni standards).

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holding precipitation at home

In the wintertime, I love shoveling snow. I know I may be outside the norm, especially as a transplant to Northeast Ohio from Northwest Florida, but I do enjoy it. This morning again as I have for many days now, I rose early while street lights were still shining and lifted the soft powder into heaps onto the lawn and garden moving it off the hard surfaces of the driveway and walks. As I move the snow onto a permeable surface (and by now it is really piling up), I think about the day when it will melt. Yes, some of it will find its way to the storm sewer, but much of it will be received by the ground. So, in essence, I am cumulatively giving my lawn and garden a big drink in springtime.

Three summers ago with Martha's help, my son installed a rain barrel for me. It works well in spring, summer and fall. I would like to install more barrels - maybe this summer. Deciding where they should go is the first step, and I have been considering this, too, as I shovel.

I think a lot about water. I think about water when it is abundant and when it is scarce. I think about the wonderful warm salty water in which I immersed myself regularly as a kid growing up in a beach community on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the ocean, the bayou, the bay. And I think of my first experience with freshwater bathing - Green Lake at Interlochen in Michigan. Most of all I think about protecting water, having fresh drinking water and water conservation methods. I notice that folks who live near large bodies of water rarely consider what it would be like to be without that precious commodity, but I am not one of them.  Right now I can look up and see water albeit frozen water falling from the sky. What a blessing it is!

I visited a home in New Hampshire once where the gentleman had constructed his home in the woods completely off-grid, electricty, sewage and water - nothing connected to any town services. The house was in a permaculture preserve where all the houses had wonderful examples of sustainable off-grid living. But what made the greatest impression on me was this guy's basement cistern. Half of his small basement was a cistern made of cement and the other half was a root cellar where he and his wife stored their fall harvest of root vegetables. It was ingenious. Ever since that visit, every time I descend into the basement of my old Cleveland Heights house I wonder if I might be able to make one of the rooms into a cistern. Money and know-how have not presented themselves to make this dream a reality, but I still imagine it with each visit.

Today, thanks to Maurice Small, my attention was directed to water again. Maurice posted a link to this video of Anupam Mishra speaking about vast quantities of fresh water harvested ingeniously in India's Golden Desert.

This reminds me of the video link that Bill posted to the inteview with Jeremy Rifkin where he discussed our "distributed" future. Here is a man, a very eloquent man, describing ancient methods of rainwater collection practiced for centuries in the Golden Desert of India.  

My current read is Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved, a book about food sovereignty and how the first “Green Revolution” turned food into a weapon to (and these are my words not his) keep the brown man down.  The history of what the Global North has perpetrated on the Global South is really ugly. No wonder they don't like us. (Oh, yes and the second green revolution is underway currently, it is the oft touted biotechnology.) Agribusiness has truly worked its magic to ensure a future of famine and hardship worldwide.

Still, despite the atrocity of inequitable trade agreements, NAFTA driving farmers in Central and South America off their farms, disconnecting them from their livelihoods and destroying their land, cotton farming with poor irrigation in Uzbekistan which has drained the Aral Sea and despite the water shortages caused by the placement of dams and pipes and other poorly considered human interferences; while mobetta methods of accessing water and growing food are touted by multinational corporate giants, here shines a ray of hope. It sneaks through this very porous vessel called the internet. This man, from the Golden Desert recounts how people in his part of the world have maintained an oasis in the desert for 800 years.

Is there hope for farmers in arid lands? Apparently there is. And it will be there via ancient methodologies and new internet technologies. Perhaps as the old adage goes, everything old is new again. We can hope that the global dissemination of tried and true technologies and cultural practices can win out over man’s hubris and greed. In the Golden Desert, they seem to have discovered a way to just say thanks but, no thanks to new water technology. Their old stuff works just fine.

And to Jeff's point above, their school of engineering could probably teach us a thing or two.

Enjoy the video, and thanks again to Maurice for bringing this to my attention.


watterson encourages disconnects

In a conversation at Sustainapalooza last year, Andrew Watterson said that he agreed with downspout disconnection and in fact has fliers printed that he gives to homeowners encouraging them to disconnect despite building codes in Cleveland. This is good and bad. All the new homes (it is an astronomical number) have to have their downspouts connected to the storm sewer (which is a combined sewer in the city of Cleveland) in order to pass inspection. It is good to go around the rules, but better to change the rules. Considering how backed up Ed Rybka's office is, I'm not sure we'll see any movement on this in Cleveland for a while. However, if we could get a mayor or city manager to agree that this is a worthwhile project, then we might be able to bring it to the council of mayors or to county commission. Peter Lawson Jones has invited Martha and me to talk with him about the idea. Martha and I are still preparing the case for support however -- trying to discover why this has not come from NEORSD or Cleveland Water. Andrew has not answered my emails. He probably has bigger fish to fry. OK. I know; if the dead zone in Lake Erie continues to expand, he won't have any fish to fry, boil, grill or eat raw....

What is the arguement against disconnecting?

Do you know why it is a zoning requirment in Cleveland to be connected to the sewer and is this the case in other cities around here - why? Are there cities around here that are exceptions? What is the downside. I would think the places to start are the progressive suburbs - East Cleveland, Lakewood, Shaker, Cleveland Heights, etc - do they have an advantage by disconnecting downspouts - save money?

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away with waste

I am only speculating here, but I think it is the "away" concept that launched the idea that whatever we don't want to deal with, we can send "away". The idea that it can be tossed, flushed, drained, trucked, buried, etc. is a reaction to garbage and sewage accumulating as urban centers evolved. Look at all the disinfectants we have manufactured to deal with our fear of bacteria. (And I would comment that with the number of unknown chemicals we consume through our lungs, skin and stomach linings, these may truly be worrisome to our compromised immune systems.)

But we grew up with this idea of sending things "away". Let some poor sod deal with my mess. We put our leaves on the tree lawn to go away. We place our garbage on the curb and it is taken away. We bury nuclear waste; we let tons of nitrate rich fertilizer wash "away" from our lawns, farm fields and CAFO waste lagoons. There is the persevering idea that we can actually get away from all this stuff.

But as we are learning, unless we decide that the Moon or Mars are appropriate dump sites and dumping there becomes economical, we are forced to live in a cycle of food and waste. We are living in an ecosystem which is a complex methodology, designed by nature for reusing and recycling -- for producing and consuming waste. Everything's coming up roses, but also everything's pushing up daisies.
It may be easier to walk on a sidewalk, but water can't get through it, so the water runs faster atop the impermeable pavement into a pipe that carries it to a waterway. This rushing water carries with it whatever soluble or insoluble material it may pick up along the way along a paved area, into a pipe and onto a treatment facility bypassing nature's own well designed filter -- soil. Much of this water needs to be treated, but much of it does not. The soil would be an economical filter for lots of rain water, but it can't get there because we want it to flow "away".

Aqueducts for channeling water go back a long way in history, but sometimes the systems have backfired.

Such as for the Sumerians:

"The early Sumerian civilization of the fourth millennium BC was remarkable, advancing far beyond any that had existed before. Its irrigation system, based on sophisticated engineering concepts, created a highly productive agriculture, one that enabled farmers to produce a surplus of food that supported the formation of the first cities. Managing the irrigation system required a complex social organization, one that may have been more sophisticated than any that had gone before. The Sumerians had the first cities and the first written language, the cuneiform script. They were probably as excited about it as we are today about the Internet.

It was an extraordinary civilization, but there was an environmental flaw in the design of the irrigation system, one that would eventually undermine its agricultural economy. Water from behind dams was diverted onto the land, raising crop yields. Some of the water was used by the crops, some evaporated into the atmosphere, and some percolated downward. Over time, this percolation slowly raised the water table until eventually it approached the surface of the land. When it reached a few feet from the surface it began to restrict the growth of deep-rooted crops. Somewhat later, as the water climbed to within inches of the surface, it began to evaporate into the atmosphere. As this happened, the salt in the water was left behind. Over time, the accumulation of salt reduced the productivity of the land. The environmental flaw was that there was no provision for draining the water that percolated downward.

The initial response of the Sumerians to declining wheat yields was to shift to barley, a more salt-tolerant plant. But eventually the yields of barley also declined. The resultant shrinkage of the food supply undermined the economic foundation of this great civilization."

    from Lester Brown's Eco-Economy

This doesn't seem to be the issue in Northeast Ohio or North American for that matter. Whereas the Sumerians relied on the water cycle of evaporation and rainfall to return water to the Persian Gulf overfilling their water table, we seem to have reduced our water table. Why you might wonder (and I do too) does Portage county need to buy Lake Erie water? Can't they access the aquifer? Are their wells over pumped with the new faster more amazing pumping technology?

Why is one of the most productive estuaries in North America being denied water to support the largest number of species in one area in the western hemisphere? (I am talking about the Apalachicola River Watershed in North Florida.) Because people in Atlanta and rural Georgia and Alabama have diverted the river's flow for drinking, toilet flushing, recreation making (which drives up property values), lawn watering, agriculture and hydroelectric power.

I haven't asked any direct questions of city managers because the response I get from most folks is "I'll flood my basement or my neighbor's basement". I am trying to gather the intelligence to make a strong or irrefutable case for first suburbs to change their codes and encourage their citizenry to take these simple steps while in their yards and gardens this summer.

So development and sprawl are the culprits. As my mother would say, “we got too big for our britches”. But short of lying down in front of a bulldozer, what can we do? Maybe we can change the building codes and let more water percolate into the ground. Maybe we can harvest the rain that falls on our roofs and use it on our gardens. I am with you on the harvesting and gardening Bill, now we just need to see our actions spread.

more on toilet lake disconnect

I must be a magnet for this information because looking for something else I stumbled on this article from Boston.com. Apparently in Boston, they are concerned about Great Lakes water quality. Now we can add toilet lake to the long list of monikers for our region along with rustbelt, gloombelt, poorest city, industrial wasteland, etc.

From the article:
"Even though municipalities in the Great Lakes region have spent vast sums of money in recent decades upgrading their wastewater plants, the situation remains appalling, says the report by the Sierra Legal Defense Fund.

The report makes several recommendations, including improving water conservation in order to reduce the flow to sewage plants, and keeping rain water out of sewers by disconnecting downspouts and separating storm drains and sewer systems."

From the report card: (read about it at Sierra Legal Defense Fund)
"The results are disappointing, with cities like Toronto, Syracuse and Hamilton getting below average grades. Detroit, Cleveland and Windsor performed abysmally and are at the bottom of the class. The cities that fared poorly typically have serious problems related to their combined sewers; antiquated systems that combine storm water and sanitary sewers into a single pipe and are prone to releasing raw sewage during wet weather."

This CSO outfall (#14) is in Akron, but there are many in Cleveland and throughout the region. It is more difficult to find one in action, but you can imagine what rushes from them in a rain event.

Cleveland get's a D+ on CSO report card

If you read through the Sierra Legal Defense Fund Great Lakes Report Card, you will see that Cleveland ranks low on the CSO chart. Communities who have education programs and citizen active projects underway have reduced CSOs, but in Cleveland we get a D+ next you our name on the map.

If you don't have time, just search the PDF for the word, Cleveland. You'll find everything you need to know.

This is the volume in thousands of litres/year of CSO discharges -- 20,819,766.

"Cleveland and Detroit report CSO overflows that exceeded 5% of the total sewage flow."

Our ranking:
Cleveland, OH 19th (out of 20 -- Detroit is 20)

Our bad grades:

  • Average yearly volume of combined sewer overflows (as a percentage of total flow) F
  • Frequency of combined sewer overflows F
  • Up to date sewer use by-law D
  • Future plans C

There has to be more we can do. Why hasn't NEORSD asked us to help?


Minimizing the amount of storm water that enters sanitary and combined sewer systems is critical to reducing the amount of raw and partially treated sewage entering the Great Lakes. To accomplish this, cities need programs to encourage the disconnection of residential downspouts and footing drains connected to municipal sewer systems.

It is nice to learn from you

I love being able to learn about something I never thought about from someone who has. This seems like a very important, multi-billion-dollar problem with some easy solutions that only you are talking about around here. I hope that getting this knowledge into public mind will grow the discussion - you certainly have made me concerned and supportive of implementing better practices.

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Is it coincidence or cause and effect that the  rust belt wrecks of Detroit and Cleveland both have ignored their sewer and storm water infrastructure and are the worst cities on the Great Lakes in terms of polluting their Great Lake?  I  go with cause and effect.  Cleveland has bonded the white elephant Brown's Stadium, but not bonded construction of up to spec sewer and storm drains.  Cleveland has bonded Gateway with it's professional ball field, but not bonded construction of downspout separation (in Boston separation of downspouts from sewers is mandatory).    Have Cleveland's "leaders" acted from ignorance or malfeasance?  Not ignorance...

NEO infrastructure needs redevelopment or replacement

Right now, a great deal of NEO infrastructure needs redevelopment or replacement, including bridges, the water and power systems, the ports and rail grid, and our lake and river shores. I think the ballparks are good infrastructure for a 1,000,000 city in a 3,000,000 person region. Problem is, we're a 400,000 person city. Sad thing is we are dying with industry but because we let industry kill our lake and environment industry killed the future potential of our region - imagine how popular Cleveland would be if it was a well planned city with a really beautiful lake and river.

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Norm,  If ballparks were good investments, you have to ask yourself why they aren't owned by the private industry that uses them and would be out of business without them.   The “team” owners that need the parks to generate profits for themselves have sold the nation a bill of goods – in fact the seasonally  used structures are a parasite on the people.   That old Roman expression, "give the people bread and circus" - is what phony "sports" complexes are all about – the structures allow the “circus” to distract the citizenry from the responsible actions the citizens should be pursuing.  In symbiotic sync with  advertisers (an entire section in the PD and every newspaper across the country and all across TV – promotes sports without the sport teams having to pay for the coverage) the citizenry is  anesthetized and titillated by tracking meaningless “statistic” RBI and Bondian steroid drivel.  

Norm,  you have been hammering away on lead poisoning being on our every wall and in high concentrations in our Cleveland drinking water, and I have been paying attention.  Keep hammering away because it is only when something is repeated enough that it really sinks in.  I looked at the missing paint on a board which the pet rabbit was chewing – and I thought – “man, I bet that rabbit is eating lead” – so Norm you are getting through to me  (the paint was lead- I am arranging an IQ test for the rabbit – just kidding, actually the rabbit is pretty damn smart! I covered the board.).


So while there is lead in our drinking water and fecal and chem and pharma residue in our lakes (and drinking water)  wouldn’t it be more responsible and helpful to ourselves and  our families if the statistics in our heads had to do with CSO discharges and air borne particulate counts and pico liters of blood lead ? When you get into it, those statistics actually can be pretty stimulating...seriously.  I  am in to them...


 “professional sports” are the last “public” cause  that needs to be publicly supported financially – In fact I don’t believe it should ever be publicly supported.  (N.B.  I'm for public support for amateur sports) Why is it that the free enterprise model is good enough for every other for-profit industry – and for the common citizen who has to pay for the “venue” (home) they use – while inane “professional sports” sucks the taxpayers’  teat$?




tracking??? it's gambling

I am grinning here thinking about your post. I totally agree with you, but I think you've left out a critical element of the sports mania.

    You say "tracking meaningless “statistic” RBI". In my understanding, most sports are betting and gambling engines. People bet on the games. I only know about the pools my son participated in during high school. But you have heard about the office betting on sports, right? if you are going to gamble on who will win or some such drivel, you have to follow the games.

    When I was 15, I was in Saratoga, NY for a summer and was taken to the racetrack to see Secretariat run. I was there to see him run, but most everyone else was there to make money (or lose it). I go to a baseball game given a chance because I am wowed by the athleticism, but I prefer little league and HS sports. Don't even get me started on men's lacrosse -- I love it! I am just not a gambler, so that part escapes me.

    Now imagine if we placed bets on soil, water or air quality? We could have pools on which days will be ozone action days, what the particulates in Cleveland's air will be reported to be in a given month, the dissolved oxygen levels in the Lower Cuyahoga, what will the average wind speed at the crib anemometer be for 2007,  where will the port relocate? There is money to be made there, I'm sure. Maybe we just need to get the guys who like gambling to bet on these statistics.

My 2 cents....  I will be

My 2 cents....  I will be doing a rainbarrel and probably in conjuction a vernal pond next summer in my back yard.  I got some plans/ideas from the helpful folks at the Nature Center @ Shaker Lakes.  I am too far hydrologically from Doan Brook to help out that watershed with the small amount of additional groundwater flow that I will generate, but I believe 9 Mile Creek will benefit from my slight offerings. 

Who knows, I might even help out some flowers, trees and chirping birds too, ha-ha :-)



Excellent - is this easy to do in your city?

It is nice to see you leading by example, as usual. I'm not sure what a vernal pond is - if anyone can explain - where do you live and is it necessary to get a permit for any of this?

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Vernal Pool definition

Slight depression, not in a clear drainage topography, less than an acre, even less than 1/4 acre, which accummulates percipitation - particularly in spring, but will be dry in summer.  Frogs and their tadpoles prefer them because they are temporal and thus have few in water predators.  Often in glaciated terrain, but anywhere riverbeds have shifted, organics have settled.

Vernal Ponds, Rain Barrels & Permits?


I will be directing a portion of the stormwater discharge away from the foundation of the house (which has no basement, because you hit the very solid Berea Sandstone bedrock just 18" below ground level). 

I don't know if Cleveland Hts. wants a permit for this, but I do plan to have the rain barrel(s) inside a raised planter, so they will be out of sight, and therefore not "unsightly".

Jeff offered a good definition of a vernal pond.  I have a low spot in the back part of the yard, and I need some good soil for the raised planters........

So the game plan is to build the planters, install the rain barrel(s) and drain pipes, add dirt from the low spot in the yard, blend and pour into a martini glass over crushed ice.

If time and mood permits, I might add a couple more barrels to the pond as an overflowing/cascading barrel waterfall with a solar powered pump, but first things first... There is always next year :-)

RMI decentralization of water supply

Found this in a 2004 Rocky Mountain Institute Report. It seems to confirm the groundwater issues we have been discussing here.

"Decentralization benefit: Decentralized systems avoid the hydrologic impacts that centralized collection systems can cause or contribute to. These include lower water tables, drawdown of aquifers, and reductions in stream base flow.


The role of water supply systems in altering ground water levels and surface water flows is widely recognized. Less well known are the ways centralized wastewater systems contribute to the problems caused by supply withdrawals or themselves cause significant hydrologic changes:

  • Collection systems prevent local recharge of ground or surface waters when they transport locally withdrawn water supplies, disposed to sanitary sewers, to out-of-basin treatment plants, or dispose of treated effluent via ocean, lake, or distant downstream outfalls.
  • Collection systems experiencing significant infiltration intercept natural ground water flows and transport water to distant discharge points, often significantly reducing local ground water recharge and stream base flow support.
  • Even where infiltration is minimal, collection systems may remove groundwater. It is possible that water may move along a gravity sewer line gradient but outside of the pipes themselves, particularly if gravel pipe bedding or disturbed soil from trenching is more permeable than the surrounding natural soil and subsoil. Essentially, sewer lines could in places act as “French drains.”
  • Combined sewer systems also intercept runoff, via inflow through roof downspouts, street and parking lot drains, foundation drains, etc., that would otherwise add to streamflow between the point of sewer inflow and the eventual treatment plant discharge, or move the water out of basin.21


Centralized systems also contribute to hydrologic change in an indirect but critical manner. Centralization of wastewater service beyond the cluster scale allows high-density development over large areas.


Increased density results in increases in impervious surfaces. Included among the many impacts of high levels of impervious surfaces is a reduction in infiltration of rainwater and snowmelt into the soil, and attendant reductions in ground water recharge. This can impact aquifer levels and base flow of streams. These impacts are well-documented and represent an increasing public policy concern (Otto et al. 2002)


The hydrologic impacts created by the combination of high levels of imperviousness in conventional development, conventional stormwater management techniques that do not recharge ground water, and centralized wastewater systems that further intercept or transport water away from recharge zones should be understood as highly interrelated. While keeping this in mind, this section focuses on the direct role of wastewater systems. It is clear that centralized sewer systems contribute to significant hydrologic problems in many areas.


The potential contributions of decentralized wastewater systems to maintaining ground water recharge are beginning to receive attention in literature (Hoover 2001; Zimmerman 2002), though still largely as a logical idea rather than a topic of hydrologic studies. Nonetheless, in some areas of the country, recognition of the hydrologic impacts of sewers has led local and state policy makers to promote increased use of decentralized wastewater treatment systems.'

The full report is here: Valuing Decentralized Wastewater Technologies: A Catalog of Benefits, Costs, and Economic Analysis Techniques


Here is another way of thinking about treated wastewater (that we currently send to Lake Erie and recoup from several intakes in the lake to retreat for distribution):

Another area of possible integration between wastewater systems and other infrastructure is to combine portions of wastewater and stormwater systems. Constructed wetlands have been used for exactly this purpose, for example, in Monticello, Florida. This north Florida community of 10,000 needed to provide tertiary wastewater treatment at its central plant prior to discharge to surface water, and chose a system that utilized overland flow and a constructed tertiary treatment wetland. It sized the wetland to simultaneously process stormwater flows from a 1,328 acre watershed (Leszczynska and Dzurik 1994).


Such a system is probably most appropriate for fairly centralized systems, and requires ample land. Similar systems may have higher potential in developing countries (Iwugo et al. 2002). However, Clark (1997; 1997) argues that an integrated wastewater and stormwater system, which he proposes would include water storage through aquifer storage and recharge (ASR) would be most efficient at a fairly distributed scale (see Figure 12-2 for the full concept):

  • Both the cost efficient storage and recovery of water from aquifers and the deployment of artificial wetlands to provide multiple benefits require a spatially distributed approach to water systems design for the following reasons:
  • Bores used for injection and recovery of water in aquifers must be disturbed to avoid mutual hydraulic interference and loss of efficiency;
  • Flood peak and pollution mitigation schemes are most effective when operating close to the areas of flow generation and pollution entrainment;
  • Amenity value of wetlands is maximized by spreading them throughout the community; and
  •  Land for established wetland and ASR schemes can be found more readily in small distributed parcels rather than in fewer larger ones (Clark 1997, Section 5.2.1).

Interestingly when I asked an NEORSD employee supervising a sewer interceptor job near my house on Lee Road "how treated is the water by NEORSD?" I was told that they treat it to potable standards. Then they dump it in the lake from the wastewater treatment plant we drive by on the way to Whiskey Island, for example. Then Cleveland Water takes water from the lake and treats it and sends it off to us and now also to Portage County, whose aquifer doesn't provide enough water for whatever development they may want.

last paragraph about NEORSD / sewer interceptor job / potable

Either the city employee your spoke with about your interceptor job is smoking bubonic chronic or I am missing something.   If that interceptor is for storm sewarage, it is a direct discharge to our great lake via one of the many outfalls.  Zero treatment is required under the Clean Water Act.

Now if that is sanitary sewerage they are working on, it is still not treated to 'potable' ie drinking water standards.   It is aeriated, settled, perhaps disenfected, then discharged in accordance with the particular publicly owned waste water treatment plants  National Pollution Dishcarge Elimination System Permit or NPDES permit.  The permit parameters are a million miles away from drinking water standards that is for sure.   If your on Lee Road, it is most likely heading to Easterly WWTP for shoreline discharge just east of Brahtanol (spelling??).

I live in portage county, we just signed the deal for 5 m gallons per day of Cleveland City water.. not because our aquifer is running low but because treatment technology costs out the ying yang, it is cheaper, as our green fields get turned under and replaced by trac homes from Ryan Homes!   

For coolio info on what comes out of the WWTP and into the cuyahoga river, google Cuyahoga River TMDL which stands for total maximum daily load.  You will find total data as to the volume of water discharged from literally dozens of wwtp's upstream of the rivers mouth.   100's of millions of gallons per day.  Even before it hits our industrial valley the water is nasty.

thanks for the clarification

I thought potable was a stretch for our treatment capacity. (The guy worked for NEORSD.) I appreciate the TMDL info.
Ryan Homes, eh? Are they required to connect to a storm sewer? I would guess that storm and sanitary are separate there...
If you have any thoughts on all this water sewer stuff for the basic rate payer, tax payer, please share more.

potable water and density

This 1998 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council has some interesting findings:

Another Cost of Sprawl
The Effects of Land Use on Wastewater Utility Costs

"The analysis also shows, however, that Cleveland's geographic zone-based user rates do not attempt to recover-nor do they inadvertently recover-the differences in costs attributable to different land use patterns. Because these differences can be substantial, as the first part of the study revealed, it is likely that customers in denser neighborhoods (both city and suburban) within the Cleveland water service area are continuing to subsidize those customers living in less dense areas. This rate structure may also translate into a subsidy of higher income customers because lower income households tend to live in older, higher density areas."

Wow, the federal money for air quality was pumped into traffic signal synchronization; purportedly it would cut down on emissions of idling vehicles, but combined with new emission standards which cut emissions, it has served mainly to allow people to move farther out with the same or similar commute times. And now we find that the poor people who live in the city of Cleveland and its more densely populated inner ring suburbs subsidize the water for the outlying exurbs. Is anyone reading the studies here or do we just like to study and shelve? Maybe it is time to reread some of the studies that have been done and rethink the regionalism discussion with these findings...

From Today's PeeDee on regionalism...
"Cuyahoga County commissioners:

They are too busy to consider abolishing their jobs and creating a streamlined county government headed by an elected executive.

At least that is the explanation given by Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

Dimora said the three commissioners have their hands full wooing a Medical Mart for downtown, trying to build an administration center, and other matters. He also said he is skeptical a new form of government would help the economy.

Commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones were too busy even to comment for this story."

Keep looking for that silver bullet guys, but watch your backs, cause it will more than likely bite you in the butt. Getting off the regressive tax discussion and onto a broader and already studied discussion might be a better tactic.

why the disconnect in Portland

Here is an interesting article about the downspout disconnection and overall stormwater plan in Portland, Oregon.
And it is not just Portland... While you're there; compare the city of Portland's website to Cleveland's for an eye opener on transparency and information sharing! Wowee!
There are disconnection programs in many cities such as DC (use their calculator to discover how many gallons you could not send into our aging combined sewer system -- and often to our CSO outfalls, ChicagoMilwaukee, Kansas CityToronto, Vancouver, Minneapolis and states like our neighbor to the west, the State of Indiana.
After all it is a non structural Best Management Practice encouraged by the EPA.
In the NEORSD, we acknowledge that we have a problem. Look here for an outfall near you.
 Here is the frequency of the outfalls. Here's the kicker, though...

"What is being done to control CSOs?

Under the Clean Water Act, the District is required to plan, design and construct the combined sewer overflow control program. The District's Combined Sewer Overflow Control Program is a $1.6 billion effort that consists of 103 additional miles of tunnels and connecting sewers under 65 total construction projects, which will dramatically reduce the frequency and volume of combined sewer overflows."

Is there nothing a citizen can do to help?

But wait... we have the Summer Sprinkling Program
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District adopted a summer residential sprinkling user charge program to provide major benefits to residential customers. Residential water use increases during the summer months because of lawn sprinkling and other seasonal use. Most of this additional water does not return to the sewer system.

Under this program, summer residential sewer bills are based on either average winter water consumption, or actual summer water consumption, whichever is lower. The program is in effect each year from May 1 through September 30. If you qualify, your bills during these months will likely be lower.

For additional information about the Summer Sprinkling Program, please contact the District's Customer Service Department at 216-881-8247. Learn more.

Hmmm... I am still trying to connect the dots here...

Solid Surface Tax

In other parts of the country they are taking care of the storm water problem by taxing parking lots ... private roads and other solid surfaces that cause surges of storm water during heavy rains. We can avoid massive infastructure improvements by encouraging the use of natural means to absorb runoff. In Mexico they have developed a porous cement that allows water to flow through to the ground. Why build a giant interceptor when you can tax Wal-Mart into building their parking lots in a different manner?

first we have to be allowed to mobilize

Hi John,

First we have to be able to disconnect our roof rain from the combined sewers-- as homeowners and citizens. Right now it is against most city building codes in the region. What does your building inspector say when asked about disconnecting where you live? Then when education about the issue reaches a fever pitch (because so many weekend warriors have become part of the solution and regional neighborhoods abound with vernal ponds, rain barrels and rain gardens), we will be ready to form a stormwater utility which can legislate to assess stormwater fees for impermeable surfaces and restrict development in floodplains. That's another layer of bureaucracy that probably tax payers will have to vote on and support.

You are right to say that there are many more solutions, but let us learn to crawl here in Northeast Ohio and hope that we are still alive when the complete package is running smoothly. The many steps required will take time, but now is the time to begin this process. We are in non-attainment of EPA standards in most of our regional waterways. Reducing the amount of stormwater that flows out into our streams tributaries and lakes is only a small part of a much larger plan to clean the water. But as I said last night to ODOT, it is disabling to “wait for Daddy to fix it for us”. We are not children who need their meat cut up for them, we are taxpayers who should be able to actively participate in making the place we live better for ourselves and for future generations.


I, too, am interested to know who is paying to treat the runoff from the miles of surface parking lots in Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs. But I have learned again and again to approach the issue with a simple point of entry, honey in hand, to try to attract the interested parties.


If you watch the film, “A River Renewed” about the cleaning of the Willamette River in Portland, you will see why I became convinced that it will take the entire community to help solve our water quality challenges. I am not ready to take on Steel-Mart, but if you are, then more power to you. There are numerous people working tirelessly to address the water quality issues we face in the region, I’m certain they would welcome your help if when you are ready to roll up your sleeves.

what did I do wrong?

See how the last several lines came up orange and underlined? What did I do wrong? Help!!!

Embedded code from other sites... Derek, thoughts?

Preformatted sources of content (e.g from other websites like Cleveland.com) may have alien code of all sorts - javascript, MS, etc. - and that gets into this site and it doesn't always know that code or it interprets it wrong - if this was copied from Cleveland.com it has all the code they use for their formatting of content, which isn't compatible with this site. I usually strip all that out by copying postings into text editor or a plain text email message, and then copy and paste that clean content into the text/comment box... I just did that with your message and it come out clean... but it is not formatted at all and leaves the postings flat, as you see with your posting now - no indents, etc. That should be corrected if we tune the rich text editor and Input Format but I don't want to do that until Derek goes over some other aspects of the site - changes to that can effect old content and we don't want that changed.

Remember, you should feel free to email Derek any time with format and tech questions - just click on his user profile and select contact... share what you learn as well all deal with the same problems and should share solutions.

Disrupt IT

Halting the Flow

From the Westside Sun Newspapers, Cities find out EPA Mandates will be costly

Uh, yep...

No mention of disconnection here... are these guys reviewing the non structural Best Management Practices at all? I wonder.

Any city in NEO considering Best Practices

These are issues I haven't thought about (other than why does the hair fall off my dog after swimming in Lake Erie after it rains), until some smarty posts about it here. So, I doubt any common mayors around here are thinking about what their citizens and cities are doing to the environment. Glad the Fed is forcing them to spend spend spend and tax their citizens hard hard hard for solutions... then the citizens will get pissed off at the mayors and Google the issue and bring their leaders solutions - ultimatums - and suddenly one mayor will say, "hey, let's disconnect downspouts and use pouous concrete and reduce paved surface area and reduce pesticides and promote vermiculture - and then another mayor will go duh, us too, and then regionalism will kick into a movement, and then we'll move forward. You own this issue now Susan and I'm glad you've taught the community about it - when the citizens Google, they will find your answers. It will take all that to drive the mayors to action. Keep steering.

Disrupt IT

can't stop the rain

In today's PD I found this article on stormwater problems in North Royalton, Broadview Heights, Suburbs in Flood Regions plan to stay above water. They are finally realizing the effect of all that paving. I didn't see a plan mentioned to first assess the commercial properties with the big parking lots, like strip centers and big box stores (you know the ones like Wal-Mart that have acres of parking and pay their sewerage based on 4 sinks and 6 toilets. They didn't mention assessing a fee for amount of impermeable surface, but they say they will have to assess residents.

    So here's an out there solution for those who live in North Royalton/Broadview Heights and work in Cleveland, or Akron -- move to the city. If you are carrying multiple car payments, you can jettison one car and use transit and car sharing to save money, have easy access to arts and culture and services. Your kids can join the ranks of kids in the city schools in blocks in case you have safety concerns. It could be a sort of flood driven immigration. Damn, there are probably whole neighborhoods you could resettle. If you're scared of city life, move in groups like the early pioneers. Set up your own neighborhood watch. Load up that wagon train and stake out a spot. You can still get to the Valley and the green spaces that you probably moved there for in the first place. Heck, I bet you just wiz through those green areas without even appreciating them, since every time you want anything you don't have at home you have to get in a car. It's a bold move, sort of chic actually, but it is better than cleaning up after a flood year after year and it's better than paying for it. Like Norm said in another post, some places just need to go back to nature. Floodplains would be on that list I think.

Many good ideas here

They should tax property owners per square foot of impervious area on their properties - roof, drives, parking - with discounts and mandates for specific solutions like you recommend throughout REALNEO, like disconnecting downspouts and installing catch basins and green spaces designed to address run-off.

People and businesses should also be taxed for their pollution, which can be captured at the gas pump. Gas should already be like $4 per gallon (eliminate all the pork-barrel subsidy deals the oil industry pushed through corrupt Federal politics) and add $1 for pollution remediation and prevention - $5/gallon seems good to me. Then we'll see how the PD's Kevin O'Brien likes sitting in traffic from his far west 'burb and burning half a tank of gas a day... $25-30 a day...

Once burbillies start paying for the harm they cause, they will act socially and consciously, even if only to protect their self-interests. I'm banking on urban areas booming and burbilly areas busting in the coming years. Too bad the big box developers already extracted the wealth (and goodness) from the land they destroyed, as it will be homeowners and businesses in the burbs who actually go bust (already happening). Add the cost of environmental abuse and many will be pushed over the edge... burbs will be full of boarded up McMansions nobody wants - overbuilt car dealerships, gas stations, CVS's and such will close and leave their mini-brownfields behind for the lingering burbillies to clean up - the urban core and inner rings will thrive, but the outerburbs will be a mess. Taking them back to green, as they should be, will take decades if it happens at all and until then these areas will be disgusting. Such is the cost of poor regional planning that continues here today, in the face of such impending doom.

Loving living in Ohio City, myself. Looking forward to moving to a TOD neighborhood in East Cleveland, when I finish developing that. Who else wants to move there?... we'll be preselling in a few months.

Disrupt IT

Water Rates REDUX

Wow--How did I miss this post?  Let's start to question how our water rates are determined.  In the meantime, you have very little time to sign up for the Summer Sprinkler adjustment to your bill.  The deadline is a postmark of April 30th.  That's Wednesday--next week.  Call 216-881-8247.

my neighbor and his putting green

Back in 1990, when we moved into this house in Cleveland Heights, the folks next door (a retired Marine and his schoolteacher wife) thought we would most likely be short-lived as their neighbors. We were the hippies next door. Our two year old was being potty trained in the old fashioned way - run naked outdoors in the summer. Our old blind and deaf dog wandered the lot to the right and left of us - harmless, but she was a dog. Terrifying! Our hippie friends came by late at night and sat on the porch, sometimes we had late night parties and drums were played past midnight. OH MY GOD! How many times did he call the police instead of calling us? Could he have allowed the children to cut across the corner of his yard? OH NO!!!


Year after year, I watched him out there with his chemical jar attached to the hose spraying poison on his grass. He ran the sprinkler day and night - ON THE SIDEWALK and THE STREET! His front lawn was a spectacle worthy of the cover of Better Homes and Grasses. His asphalt drive was seal-coated annually or as needed. There was not a blade of grass out of place and all the hedges were trimmed with a gasoline powered contraption that made enough noise that it drowned out freakin' Pink Floyd - The Wall!

One afternoon when a new young puppy who had come to be our son's first dog greeted a guest with a friendly bark, bark, bark, they guy made a quick turn and brandished a stiletto. That was enough for me. I shut them out - turned them off - refused to say hello, goodbye or kiss my ass.

Then he got colon cancer. I wondered where this man who had been up every morning watering, snow blowing, leaf blowing, chemicalizing his "lawn" had disappeared to. One evening while I was shoveling their walk, the neighbor on their other side told me he was sick.

Now it's a different story. He doesn't water as much. I can see dandelions in the lawn. He has taken me in as the lonely woman next door to protect. He gave me an Obama lawn sign and called me the other evening to tell me he shooed off someone who was trying to steal it. He has told me about the corruption he sees in the city (he's a part-time housing inspector). He's agreed that our government at all levels is whack.

He used to water our driveway. No more. Haven't smelled the chemical applications yet this season and may not if his sons have gotten through to him. He's leaving piles of leaves in the space behind his garage. What in the world?

The other day when I was calling my dog (she's always just on the other side of the garage where I can't see her and being obstinate), I heard him say, "Phoebe's in Shaker Heights" with an air of mirth. I think he knows I put in a rain barrel and he may get one, too. This summer we'll see how much summer sprinkling goes on there. I'll report back on whether or not there is a blade of brown grass in the lawn when August rolls around.