Note to Reader:
First released in 2014, Blueprint Columbus is an innovative way of eliminating sanitary sewer overflows while also investing in neighborhoods and the local economy. Instead of simply storing excess water that seeps into the sanitary sewer system when rain falls and snow melts, Blueprint Columbus will address the source of the problem, where rain falls. It was approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on December 1, 2015. This plan has many advantages over the City’s original Wet Weather Management Plan.
Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom
Several years ago, City of Columbus staff overseeing implementation of the City’s Wet Weather Management Plan (WWMP) began asking:
The timing was right because shortly after these questions were posed, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a policy encouraging the solution the City was considering: integrating the work required by the consent decrees and detailed in the WWMP with work required under regulations on the stormwater system.
Why Blueprint Columbus?
The original Wet Weather Management Plan submitted to the Ohio EPA in 2005 made use of the established technology at that time and called for deep underground tunnels to store rain water that gets into the sanitary sewer.
Blueprint Columbus uses today’s technology to address the source of the problem by keeping rain water out of the sanitary sewers and directing it to the storm sewer, where it belongs.
Costs versus Benefits
“What made Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman take pause was that while the costs of building additional storage capacity were high, the benefits were markedly low and limited. The project would result in a new piece of infrastructure used maybe four or five days a year, and it would sit underground, literally, doing nothing for the landscape of the city and its citizens,” wrote Steve Goldsmith in an article published on governing.com in 2014.
“The City was concerned that building 28 miles of tunnels to eliminate Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) was of questionable value, because SSOs are such a small volume of overflows compared to Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). The proposed tunnels would cost approximately $2 billion and only be used 4 or 5 times a year,” stated Mayor Michael Coleman. “Blueprint Columbus will be significantly better for the environment.”
Green Infrastructure Vision
According to Dax Blake, the city’s assistant director of sustainability and its administrator of sewerage and drainage, “the goal of Blue Print Columbus is to ‘treat the cause, not the symptom’, This means working with residents to improve drainage from homes by installing sump pumps, redirecting roof run-off and repairing ‘laterals’, the pipes that carry wastewater from houses. And on a larger scale, it involves building a system of green infrastructure to keep excess stormwater from entering the sanitary system in the first place.”
To Learn More:
Visit the homepage for Blueprint Columbus.
While there are many benefits, there are also many challenges presented by this approach. Removing the source of water seeping into lateral pipes on private property is much more visible and invasive from the homeowner’s perspective. The City may need to: replace/rehab downspouts and gutters, disturb front and back yards, build in the street right-of-way.
“What we’re seeing in cities like Columbus is part of a trend toward using green infrastructure to meet specific needs of utilities while generating a host of additional benefits for their communities. These cities are turning their infrastructural liabilities into assets,” concludes Steve Goldsmith.
To Learn More:
To read the complete article by Steve Goldsmith, published in 2014, click on Water Infrastructure That Delivers More Public Value. Steve Goldsmith is a professor of government at the Harvard Kennedy School. He was formerly the two-term mayor of Indianapolis and deputy mayor for operations for New York City.