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The Sound of Ideas

Sewers and The High Cost of Going Green

Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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Sewers and The High Cost of Going Green A plan to overhaul the region's storm water management system would help green the region but cost millions; and the regional sewer district wants landowners to pay. For most residential ratepayers, the fee is less than $60 a year. Commercial property is a different story, however. One senior center in Beachwood would see its costs go up by $34,000. Tuesday morning at 9 join host Dan Moulthrop to discuss the Northeast Ohio Resgional Sewer District's stormwater plan: why it matters and why some don't like it so much, they're suing.


Economy, Environment, Government/Politics


Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells manager of watershed programs, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
Sheldon Berns attorney
David Beach director, GreenCityBlueLake Institute

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Please follow our community discussion rules when composing your comments.

Jay 8:24 AM 3/23/10

The argument I’ve heard from Commercial properties is that having NEORSD manage this fee is not fair. Commercial properties understand the issue, and want to help, but since certain localities do not fall under the NEORSD (e.g., Lakewood), it’s not a fair and equal regional fee. Please address this.

Adam Smith 8:26 AM 3/23/10

Is porous concrete (or asphalt) being explored as an optional construction material in Cleveland to reduce the stormwater’s impact on our lake’s health?Could its use be mandated in new parking lots to offset the stormwater fee?

Pam 8:35 AM 3/23/10

We need to stop thinking short term and think for years to come. If this project can help our community for years after 2010 then $5 a month is doable in my opinion.

Arron 8:38 AM 3/23/10

Water is essential to life, and the quality of water can affect health.  Yes, I think we should all be responsible for our own run-off and pollution if it means cleaner, healthier drinking water.
Good show.  Thank you.

Mike C in Parma 8:56 AM 3/23/10

I’m definitely opposed to this idea. At what point does the tax terminate? Will it ever stop being levied against every home, business and organization with an impervious surface? Find another way to get the job done. Money isn’t everything…tap into ingenuity to get the job done.

john rath 9:16 AM 3/23/10

Channelization straightens creeks and rivers, and removes natural features.  Essentially waterways are turned into ditches which speeds water runoff.  Creeks/rivers in our area and around Ohio have been channelized by the Army Corp. of Engineers, as well as private contractors.  This runs contrary to the Sewer Districts mission.  How will this issue be reconciled?

James 9:52 AM 3/23/10

Statisticians like to measure metrics that are easy to measure, but are often misleading.

In trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia we found that the greatest sources of problems with storm water runoff were from lands that had in most cases the least impervious surface area per acre.  We found that land use was the much larger factor.  There is also the factor of soil percolation rate which varies widely.

The greatest source of silt was typically runoff from frequently plowed agricultural fields which were subject to soil erosion.

A much bigger problem was the use of fertilizers and weed killers on large suburban lawns which ironically had little impervious surface area on the land parcel.  This caused growth of algae blooms which depleted the oxygen content and drove down fish populations.

So you need a detailed engineering analysis of each parcel to assess the impact of storm water runoff.  The runoff from a large shopping mall which is almost 100% impervious may have less overall impact on the ecology of a body like Lake Erie than the runoff from suburban lawns with Chemlawn service. 

Thus a Google Earth image is often misleading and may not be a fair metric for assessing a tax or fee for storm water management against a property owner.

Very truly yours,

James W. Adams
Columbus, OH

Tamara 11:28 AM 3/23/10

How does NEORSD plan on tracking the use of resources such as rain barrels or cisterns for a credit? It seems inconsistent that we will be charged for our impervious surfaces based on possibly misleading satellite imagery, but I imagine somehow storm water diversion must be verified for the credit, and the only way I can imagine doing that is by sight. This concerns me, because if it’s just left up to consumers to check a box on a form saying, sure, I use a rain barrel, why wouldn’t everyone say they did to get the credit?

Paul Cox, producer 7:14 AM 3/29/10

The Sound of Ideas received many questions that time constraints didn’t allow us to answer on-air. Guest Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells answered many of those questions via return email.  Answers are posted here:

My back yard is flooded today with several ponds.  It is a clay soil which does not absorb water quickly.  Is there a simple way to solve the problem?
Thanks, Doug

Thank you for your e-mail Tuesday morning 3/23. WCPN sent over the e-mails we did not get to during the show. With regard to your question, I do not know the specifics of your property. If you are in our service area, we would be happy to take a look and see if we can offer any advice.

If you are interested, please contact Lita Laven of our staff at (216) 881-6600, ext. 6404 and she can discuss with you further.

Thanks again, Kyle

Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells
Manager of Watershed Programs
(216) 881-6600 ext 6414

KD-W answers John’s concerns about channelization:

I agree with your assessment of much of our region’s past development practices. Watercourses across our region have been channelized, piped, filled in, and otherwise altered. We are now seeing the problems that result from this in flooding, erosion as streams attempt to move out of these channels, and water quality problems.

Our response to these past practices is two fold - (1) We won’t make similar mistakes, and (2) We will restore natural stream function, floodplains, and hydrology to the maximum extent possible when we address the $228 million inventory of problems across our region as well as the operation and maintenance issues. For example, when we address the erosion along Mill Creek that is undercutting Warner Road in Garfield Heights, we won’t simply drop gabion baskets and harden the banks. We will examine the watershed draining to that point and design a solution that protects the road and restores stream function.

I hope this addresses your concern.  Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Question from Susan:

In Florida shopping centers cannot build these big parking lots without their own retention basins and filtering mechanisms.

When will this “investment” end? How many years will it take to meet the challenge?

How are you and with what communities are you working to change ordinances for downspout disconnects?

KD-W answers:

1) I agree re. Florida. They have had stormwater utilities and regulations in place for quite some time.

2) The Stormwater Fee of $4.75/3,000 square feet of impervious surface/month assumes that it will take us ca. 15 years to work through the $228 million inventory of problems. It also assumes that there are many problems that we don’t know about yet and a similar need for on-going operation and maintenance.  As a result, the regional stormwater management program is a permanent regional program to address NE Ohio’s stormwater management needs.

3) Re. downspout disconnection. At this point we are finalizing our Stormwater Fee Credit Policy Manual (on web site in draft mid-April ) and the Individual Residential Property Credits. Some of those residential credits rely on disconnection (such as rain gardens) and some do not. We are inventorying our Member Communities to see who allows disconnection currently and under what circumstances. Once we have that information we’ll start working with interested Members to update codes where it makes sense. As we have discussed before, downspout disconnection doesn’t work in every neighborhood or under all conditions.

Question from Mark:

If the district says they need $228 million, what is that for? Will the district then be forcing property owners to pay the fees and then pay for improvements to meet whatever regulations they impose? Too much cost to property owners at a bad economic time. We need to avoid over burdening our region with taxes and fees. That is the best way to improve our economy.

KD-W answers:

1) In establishing the Regional Stormwater Management Program, we inventoried flooding, erosion, and stormwater related water quality problems across our 62 Member Communities. This included field work and many interviews of community engineers, service directors, mayors, etc. about the chronic and large scale problems in their communities. The result of this was the $228 million inventory of flooding, erosion, and water quality problems we discussed during the show. This includes a range of projects such as the erosion of Mill Creek in Garfield Heights that threatens to undercut Warner Road, chronic flooding along Indian Creek in Macedonia that threatens homes and streets, and similar problems across the region. These are all large scale problems that no single community can effectively solve on their own.

2) The Stormwater Fee will start in 2010 at $4.75 and increase gradually to $5.15 by 2014. This fee will be per 3,000 square feet of impervious surface on the non-residential side. This fee has been approved by our Board and the District won’t charge additional fees related to stormwater.

3) I understand your concern about additional fees. We are, however, dealing with these flooding and erosion issues in a very costly way now - by responding to emergency situations and not taking a long-term view. We feel that the Regional Stormwater Management Program will save the region dollars and provide for improved public health and safety and quality of life.

Thanks again for your e-mail. I hope this information helps.

Question from DD in Strongsville:
We are Strongsville residents and we were strong armed into getting our storm sewers repaired.  Each house was tested in the development and some were told to redo the sewer/storm pipes.  We were told that if we didn’t do it there would be a fine and jail time.  French drains or rain garden was not allowed.

We had to pay $5000 to have the digging done.  Could we have done this
ourselves...if we knew how to use the machinery needed or the knowledge MAYBE....with full time jobs and two small kids forget it!

This is not being done in the right way.  Options for loans from the banks were outrageous and not an option.

New homes and developments go up and the older homes are forced to pay these fees to do work that isn’t working.  Now we deal with more drainage problems inside.

The people are not being treated well during this nor are they being given alternatives. 

Green rain run off alternatives would be great.

KD-W answers:
I am sorry about your negative experience with your storm sewer replacement.

As you know, that was not an NEORSD project so I am not familiar with the specifics. I am familiar, however, with the new Regional Stormwater Management Program and there are many options for homeowners to reduce their Stormwater Fee and control stormwater on their properties.

As I discussed, the fee for most homeowners will be $57/year. That is for between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet of impervious surface, generally roof and driveway. Properly constructed rain gardens, and other measures will get a 25% reduction in that fee.

We will have information on these Individual Residential Property Credits on our web site ( in mid-June.

Is it true that the Cinemark Theater in Valley View prior to being built, had to place bladders under the building to contain any runoff water from that property?

KD-W answers:

I am not familiar with the construction of the theater in Valley View. The Valley View City Engineer, however, will know the specifics of construction and can address your questions. You can reach him by calling Valley View City Hall and asking for the Engineer. You may also be able to find him on the City’s web site.

Question from Wendy:

I am a Hudson home owner who would fall under the $34/year fee structure. The Brandywine creek in fact runs diagonally through our yard. I wonder if there has been consideration of an offset for % of impervious surfaces per lot size for home owners?

In my case, I have a small home and short driveway; less than one acre of my three acre property is lawn and we do not apply lawn or garden chemicals; the remainder of the property (> 2 acres) is a restored tall grass prairie meadow, riparian creek side, a temporary pond, and about 1 acre of it is a pine wood.

Seems like I am doing my part to absorb storm water and I’m happy to do it. But shouldn’t there be consideration for rewarding home owners who take steps to offset hard surface erosion?

KD-W answers:

As I briefly mentioned on the show, we will offer Individual Residential Property Credits of 25% for homeowners who take steps to manage stormwater on their properties. This credit will be simple to get (downloadable application, mail in picture, etc.) and will be for stormwater control measures, such as rain gardens, cisterns, and vegetated swales, that meet certain standards. The situation you describe of a relatively small amount of impervious surface surrounded by a larger yard is what the vegetated swale stormwater control measure is designed to recognize - running stormwater across yards to promote infiltration. If you feel that the 25% credit does not recognize the level of runoff control on your property, the NEORSD Stormwater Management Code also includes provisions for appeals.

Finally, I do want to point out that while we can all do our best to control the stormwater from our properties, it is important to remember that we have a great deal of impervious surface in our region that we all use, such as roads, that has very little stormwater management. We also have ca. $228 million in flooding, erosion, and water quality problems that we need to address as a region due to our historically poor approach to stormwater management and similar needs for maintenance and repair.  As a result, the stormwater fee covers the impacts from each of our properties as well as this regional inventory of existing problems.

I hope that addresses your questions. If you would like to discuss further, please let me know.

In response to Jay’s concerns:

A few points in reply:

1) NEORSD cannot apply the Regional Stormwater Management Program to communities outside our service area. We do not have that authority. Westlake, Lakewood, Fairview Park, and several other cities in Cuyahoga County are not Member Communities of NEORSD and thus not subject to our Code of Regulations. We do, however, cover 62 communities which is quite a large area (350 square miles) and includes major portions of four watersheds. It is a very good geographic area within which to implement regional stormwater management.

2) Communities not in our service area can chose to come in and we would gladly expand our service area in this way if the elected officials in these communities are interested.

3) Finally, stormwater fees similar to NEORSD’s in place in several communities in our region and they have not created the competitive disadvantage I think these commercial property owners fear. The City of Broadview Heights has had a ca. $5 fee in place for several years and Lake County has a program in place for much of the county. Hamilton County (City of Cincinnati) also has a program, as do other Ohio cities. There is not data to support that the fee impacts business success, location, competition, etc.

We are sensitive to the commercial property owners concerns, understand that a new fee is never welcome, and will do all we can to ensure these properties get credits for their existing stormwater control measures, but our service area is an excellent place to start a regional approach to stormwater.

KD-W responds to Adam Smith’s question about porous concrete:

Under the Regional Stormwater Management Program we are treating all “pervious pavement” systems - pavers, porous concrete, porous asphalt, etc - as stormwater control measures. This means that they will be considered towards the impervious surface calculation for a property but will be eligible for a Stormwater Fee Credit if they meet certain standards.  This arrangement will help to ensure that the paving system is properly maintained and continues to provide stormwater management.

Our assumption is that as a result of the Stormwater Fee and the Stormwater Fee Credit, more folks will look at porous systems. Because these systems are one of many stormwater control measures available for a credit, I don’t see a situation under which we would (or could) “mandate” their use. Our approach is to establish performance standards under the Stormwater Fee Credit and ensure folks have the information necessary on a range of options to decide what works best for their site.

Would a green roof count as an impervious surface? I’m talking about the kind that have soil and plants as a covering.
Would water gardens have some affect on the home owner’s cost?
John Duckworth
Coventry Township

KD-W answers:

1) Green Roofs - we are considering green roofs towards the impervious surface calculation for a property but they will be eligible for a Stormwater Fee Credit if they meet certain standards.  This arrangement will help to ensure that the green roof system is properly maintained and continues to provide stormwater management.

2) If by “water gardens” you mean “rain gardens” - yes, if designed to meet certain standards, rain gardens will be one of the practices eligible for the Individual Residential Property Credit.

I hope that helps address your questions. If you would like to discuss further, please let me know.


Are dry laid pavers considered impervious? Local regulations prohibit gravel driveways/parking lots. What of weighting this fee against new construction, or grandfathering in older construction to help with urban sprawl and the desperately needed re-investment in existing structures?

Scott in Cleveland Hts.

KD-W answers:

1) Pavers - we are treating all “pervious pavement” systems - pavers, pervious concrete, etc - as stormwater control measures. This means that they are considered towards the impervious surface calculation for a property but will be eligible for a Stormwater Fee Credit if they meet certain standards.  This arrangement will help to ensure that the paving system is properly maintained and continues to provide stormwater management.

2) We agree re. the need to focus infrastructure investment where dollars have already been spent but we need to implement an equitable and fair program. This requires that all impervious surface, regardless of location, be treated the same.

I hope those answers help.  I would be happy to talk further if you would like.

Garfield Hts. Resident 4:36 AM 7/17/10

re: Garfield Hts. resident sewer increase
Back in 2003 the population here was about 29,800.
Take an estimated 30 times that many resident plus the 4,000 plus tickets last month from the traffic cam. STOP scamming us new mayor collova. You can’t expect to make former Mayor Longo’s salary when you JUST came to office - he worked up to it for years.  Strongsville and other cities only got imposed $5.00 and less and we get slammed with almost $50.00? You can’t even reply generically to residential emails or return a phone call to existing residents - I know from person try to reach you. Shame on you myr collova. That’s well over billions of dollars for what huge ammenities for the city - a solid fix to the water flow pipes? COME ON! We are lower class face the music mayor: households with children to clothe here, not even standard/average $45,000 annual incomes considered low class.  We are poverty here.


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