Raining on the Butterfly Effect: How to Reduce Fees, Divert Rainwater, and Garden
by Chris Hanson
Have you ever heard of The Butterfly Effect? In Chaos Theory, it is the idea that a tiny, minute action can have drastic effects on the other side of the world, such as a fleeting butterfly in New Mexico causing a typhoon in Japan. But sometimes, those actions and the effects can take place at your home and just down the road.
Residents of the Heights communities tend to hear a lot about damaging stormwater and solutions to its runoff problems, including rain barrels, rain gardens, and reducing impervious surface. We tend to think of surfaces such as concrete driveways, sidewalks, and other materials sitting on the ground that rain doesn’t easily pass through. Impervious surfaces include rooftops, driveways, and even decks.
Okay, so the rain obviously can’t pass through the concrete, cement, the roof, etc. When it rains, doesn’t it just go around the object and head into the soil? Yes and no. Driveways, rooftops, patios, and other surfaces, if installed correctly, slope away from your home, and guide water into the grates on the roadway. Our system for handling sewage and stormwater was built awhile ago. It was not designed for the region’s population size or the amount of impervious surface.
The other problem is the one under our feet. Heights communities are built on an escarpment, a geographical term for a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights. This is how all of the Heights cities got their names. Think of it as the dividing line between the Great Lakes Basin and the Allegheny Plateau. Whereas this shale formation saved our area during the last glacial epoch, it left behind relatively poorly-drained soils and clay formations.
Because there is little use of groundwater, our buildings were designed to route stormwater runoff directly to storm sewers, then into streams, and finally our Great Lake. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Because of urban sprawl and the immediate rush of water to our streams, we experience flooding. Recall the calamitous events that took place in along Rt. 77 in Cuyahoga Heights not too long ago. Exner (2011) provides county-wide local flood maps, the first such in 40 years. Find yours here.
In other areas of the country, better landscape design and newer systems are used to treat this problem. Milwaukee, for example, has expanded “gray infrastructure,” or stormwater and sewage systems (Keeley et al., 2013). This is fine for when an area is still growing, but what about when a city, such as Cleveland Heights, is shrinking?
That’s where institutions such as the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative play a role in finding solutions that work for cities with shrinking populations (and budgets). They believe that vacant lots create green space that absorbs rainwater, but to make a larger difference, there are wide-scale changes needed with many stakeholders (LaCroix, 2010). A study by Case Western Reserve in 2013 (Jennings, et al.) found that there are a few local solutions that will help with stormwater management:
Because we can’t afford to create an entirely new gray infrastructure immediately, hyper-local changes are necessary. Downspout disconnects are haphazard because the water runoff may ruin basements. Permeable Pavement installation can sometimes be expensive. The best solutions for homeowners are Rain Gardens and Rain Barrels.
According to the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, about 60% of our municipal water supply goes directly to watering our lawns. It is easy to change that and use a rainwater supply, thereby reducing runoff. Installing rain barrels, which are at local companies like Rain Barrels N’ More. Making a rain barrel by yourself is a cinch too. Local plumbing manufacturer Oatey makes a unique downspout attachment that diverts water to the rain barrel using a garden hose mount.
NEORSD began billing for Stormwater Management the second half of 2016, but there is help you can get to mitigate the both the effects of rainwater and fees. Contact the Doan Brook Watershed Program to assess your property. Community members will be able to divert rainwater, save some money, and even grow some fresh food with relatively little effort. You could even contribute to a greater Lake, and minimize “the butterfly effect.”
Exner, R. (2011, February 14). Cuyahoga County flood maps. Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/index.ssf/2011/02/cuyahoga_county_flood_maps.html
Jennings, A. A., Adeel, A. A., Hopkins, A., Litofsky, A. L., & Wellstead, S. W. (2013). Rain Barrel-Urban Garden Stormwater Management Performance. Journal Of Environmental Engineering, 139(5), 757-765. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)EE.1943-7870.0000663
Keeley, M., Koburger, A., Dolowitz, D. P., Medearis, D., Nickel, D., & Shuster, W. (2013). Perspectives on the use of green infrastructure for stormwater management in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Environmental Management, 51(6), 1093-1108. doi:10.1007/s00267-013-0032-x
Kroll, K. (2009, August 13). Oatey, a Cleveland plumbing manufacturer, is dipping into rain barrels. Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2009/08/gus_chanthe_plain_dealerdennis.html
LaCroix, C. J. (2010). Urban Agriculture and Other Green Uses: Remaking the Shrinking City. Urban Lawyer, 42(2), 225-285.