October 29, 2013 10:22:46 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
EDITOR'S NOTE: Few infrastructure systems are as critical to a community's health and prosperity as its water supply. Today, The Dispatch wraps up a three-part series examining Columbus' water infrastructure with a look at its drainage system.
By day, Jimmie Nance is typically busy shifting gears on an excavator, demolishing dilapidated houses.
On Thursday in the Northaven Woods community, Nance was lowering the boom and opening the thumb and bucket on the large apparatus to uproot a small, stubborn tree.
Overgrowth had all but taken over a city-owned ditch behind a couple of neighborhood houses. During Columbus' last big rain the ditch flooded and the stormwater made its way inside of one house and up to the back porch of another. Nance's duty was to pull up the debris and clear it so it can be taken to the landfill. Then he used the equipment to clear the channel and construct a levee that will keep future rainwater away from the private property.
Columbus interim public works director Casey Bush said the department had been wanting to address the problem for more than two years. Now, at least, future flooding and potential liability will be prevented since the work is being done.
"Water is going to find somewhere to go," Bush said. "I'm glad we're able to take care of (this issue) now with the rainy season coming in (the property) owner won't have that problem again."
This is not a common occurrence, Bush said, and public works has made great strides in recent years improving drainage in Columbus. But there are still a few concerns, primarily on Poplar, Maple and Beech streets in East Columbus. While some work was done there during the summer, there are still several metal drainage pipes in those areas that are too small to handle large volumes of water and they have corroded, leading to erosion and flooding when rain falls. Improving drainage underneath these streets for the people it serves is at the top of Bush's priority list.
Long-term, Bush said replacing all remaining metal pipes and replacing them with high-strength plastic ones should be a priority for the city. The shelf life of plastic pipes is double that of metal ones, he said.
The toughest part of replacing a pipe is digging up the old one, which Bush said usually takes a week, depending on the scope of the project. Bush uses his ditch crew to dig up the ground covering the old pipe and then uproot the pipe itself.
From there, Bush said, installing new pipe is almost as simple as it is self-explanatory. The issue with large scale replacement projects is money. The new plastic pipes are 18 inches around and 20 feet long. It costs about $120 for one. A 300-foot replacement would mean $1,800 from city funds, and several departments' budgets were reduced. Bush said this will be the topic he brings up when the council holds its strategic planning retreat in December.
Once the pipe is in the ground and covered with dirt, crews will put rye seed in the dirt if it's wintertime or bermuda in the summer as well as erosion matting. This helps to restore what was dug up to mirror the grass surrounding it and prevent erosion, he said.
There is reason to be optimistic, Bush said, with the city council's agreement to purchase a $150,000 vacuum truck for the public works department when it passed its 2013-14 fiscal year budget last month. Public works will use the new equipment to alleviate small-scale drainage issues that pop up during and after heavy rains.
"When we get this vac truck in it's going to take 60 percent of our flooding issue on the streets out of the way," he said. "The other 40, I would say is from the bigger pipes we've been trying to replace."
Overall, this means public works has worked to get in a position where there is no long- or short-term threats in terms of the city's drainage, he said. A vacuum truck, which the long-time employee said the city hasn't had in more than 10 years, is just an extra leg up.
"We used to run a lot when we did have it," he said.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.