The following is the latest installment of Mayor Jim Boroff's monthly updates on city issues.
Flooding. The administration's No. 1 concern at this time is the two unprecedented floods we experienced so far this year and how to deal with future occurrences. Both events affected some areas of the community that had remained untouched for dozens of years. And, both have caused considerable damage. This has prompted us to research the causes and work toward finding effective solutions.
The administration has been in touch with a number of agencies and authorities on hydrology, meteorology and the Sandusky River watershed in an effort to gather information and data pertaining to these two storms. Although, as of this writing, we have much more ground to cover, we are certain of the following:
The late February flood was a combination of fairly excessive amounts of rainfall - most of which resulted in run-off due to the frozen and/or already super-saturated ground. This was compounded by snow melt run-off further upstream in Rock and Willow creeks. Given that there was little ground cover foliage, water ran virtually impeded into the tributaries of the watershed.
The thunderstorm that occurred early Saturday morning, July 23, almost literally parked itself over the Tiffin area and dropped between six and nine inches of water within a time span of about three hours. According to the experts, nothing like this has happened within recent memory. In effect, it was "The Perfect Storm" in terms of severity and intensity.
In both situations, the affected areas of stream flooding were consistent with the flood plain maps as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This means that, although hopefully a rare occurrence, these floods occurred exactly where the hydrologists predicted they would. However, many residents throughout the area experienced basement flooding through their drains and foundation walls caused by water pressure from the excessively saturated ground.
There are many other factors that also have come into play in just the past few years. I have talked with a fair number of farmers and agricultural professionals about the impact field tiling has on water run-off. All of them acknowledge the large volumes of water that quickly discharge into the culverts from tiled field when heavy rains occur. Within the past five years, thousands of acres of farm land have been newly tiled, with the discharge running directly into the culverts and subsequently into the creeks relatively unhindered.
There has been some discussion about trees and brush within the city limits in the Rock Creek waterway that might be impeding the water flow. I am told by those versed in hydrology that this contributes fairly insignificantly to the problem. However, we need to address this issue and will be attending to their immediate removal.
At the same time, we should keep in mind that brush and other vegetation upstream from the city tends to slow the velocity of the run-off and block its progress. This results in a lesser volume of water discharging through the creeks for a longer period of time, thus minimizing the spread of water throughout the flood plain and making it less devastating.
Construction and paved areas also contribute to the run-off problem. For example, my house is fairly small, with a footprint of about 1,000 square feet. The six-inch rain produced 500 cubic feet of run-off water within three hours. That is approximately 3,750 gallons of water from one house. If you multiply that volume of water by thousands of homes and buildings in town - many of them significantly larger than mine - and then calculate the run-off effect of the many paved areas (i.e., parking lots, streets and driveways), the result is a huge quantity of water with virtually nowhere to go.
There also are some questions being raised about possible blockages and constrictions in our own sewer system. The Department of Public Works routinely checks and cleans each sewer discharge line three times a week and has a scheduled regular maintenance of the entire system. Unless someone deposits grass clippings into a storm drain or discharges large quantities of solid materials into the sewer, blockages are relatively rare. Even if such an event does occur, we know about it within a day or so and immediately attend to it.
The only exception to this issue is the Rock Creek interceptor, which is beginning to fail and shows sediment constrictions in the line. That is exactly why the administration has embarked upon a restoration project of that portion of the system, which is to be completed by early spring of next year.
The final point of flooding discussion is that of the regional weather patterns themselves. I had an extensive talk with my good friend David Baker, former director of the Heidelberg University Water Quality Lab. He has a vast knowledge about the Sandusky River watershed from years and years of research, data gathering and analysis. Among the various pieces of valuable information he gave me was that our weather patterns have significantly changed during these past 20 years. He states we now are seeing a larger number of high-intensity storms that dump significant amounts of rainfall in very short periods of time.
If we look collectively at all of these contributing factors, it becomes apparent we will continue to experience heavy storms with resultant large volumes of water run-off. Once we get a better handle on the extent to which each of these factors contribute to the problem, the next step will be to find solutions. This will be a regional issue that will require effective planning, shared expense and - above all - considerable cooperation among all of the affected parties and governmental agencies.
The administration takes flooding very seriously. During this last incident, most of us in city government experienced the same problems our residents did. My wife and I spent considerable time over the weekend drying out our basement - and we still are working at it. The city administrator suffered even greater losses of carpet and furniture.
I promise you we will work diligently on this issue to resolve the problems to the best of our ability. In the meantime, please make certain all of your house's downspouts discharge rainwater well into your yard and not directly into the sewer system. We also ask that you refrain from blowing leaves and grass clippings into the street, where they might eventually end up in the storm drains. If you find a storm drain that is being clogged by debris, report it to our Public Works Department at (419) 448-5430.
Any constructive observations or suggestions from the citizens would be greatly appreciated. If we are to determine a solution, it will have to be through a universal effort.
As always, if you have any concerns, suggestions or questions about any issues facing the city, please feel free to write to me c/o 51 E. Market Street, Tiffin, OH, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may call my office at (419) 448-5401 or stop by without an appointment, but to ensure I am available, please call ahead.