Columbus initiative aimed at reducing basement flooding
by Leslie Benson
In the Salem Village neighborhood, Pamela Berube stepped into what she remembers as a nightmare - a foot and a half of wastewater in her basement. "It was horrible," she says. "There was toilet paper floating around. I have four kids, and their toys were flooded."
Such unwelcome christenings are an all-too-common occurrence in Columbus, where city officials say the infrastructure is outdated and overwhelmed.
Older links in the system, some of which were built 100 years ago, transport stormwater and sanitary sewage in one pipe, so during a hard rain, untreated wastewater spills into area waterways and the basements of unlucky homeowners.
Help is available, however. The city will pay $5,000 for the installation of a valve to prevent further backflow, if it turns out its antiquated wastewater system is to blame for a flooded basement.
The money is part of Project Dry Basement, a program started in 2004 by Mayor Michael Coleman to protect eligible homeowners from such backups. More than 600 residents have used the program at a cost of $3 million, says Dax J. Blake, administrator of the Division of Sewerage and Drainage.
"We've seen immediate results," Blake says. "So far, this year we've only had homeowners report 60 or 70 cases of sewage backflow due to main line sewer backups. Usually, this number is in the hundreds."
David R. Specht, president of The Waterworks, an approved Columbus-area contractor certified to install the valve, says homeowners who opt to hire a contractor on their own will pay between $3,000 and $6,000.
"It's quite an ordeal," Specht says. "It involves tearing up the basement floor, exposing the sewer, putting in the device and hiring a concrete contractor to repour the floor."
The Berube family qualified for Project Dry Basement. What the program didn't pay for was the mess the sewage left behind. Berube says it cost her $3,000 in property damages and sanitization charges.
"We rented a truck to pick up all the ruined clothing, toys and carpet," she says. "Then we had a professional carpet cleaner sanitize the finished half of the basement."
Project Dry Basement is an interim solution to reduce basement backups. To handle the remaining overflow, Blake and others drafted a Wet Weather Management Plan (WWMP) in 2005 as part of the Project Clean Rivers initiative. The Ohio EPA approved the WWMP, worth $2.5 billion, in February.
Over the next 40 years, Columbus will build three deep-sewer tunnels, stretching 25 miles along the Olentangy River and Alum Creek and near downtown Columbus. By 2025, Combined Sewer Overflow volume will be reduced from 1.65 billion gallons annually to 250 million gallons, limiting the chances of a basement backup.
In the meantime, you can call the Sewer Maintenance Operations Center at 645-7102 to determine your eligibility for Project Dry Basement.