City committee to tackle storm water issues

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Faced with mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency and the needs of its citizens, the City of Peoria is forming an advisory committee to seek public input and help it manage its storm water infrastructure problems.

Called the OneWater Committee, the group will study the feasibility of establishing a dedicated funding stream for storm water management and the proposed use of green infrastructure that would help with sewer overflow problems, the city said in a news release.

“As citizens know, there’s a real need to control storm water throughout our community—not just in the combined sewer overflow area. We are seeing channel erosion, sinkholes and old pipes in need of repair,” said Mike Rogers, director of the city’s Department of Public Works. “Peoria must take a comprehensive approach to wet weather management, and that’s why public input is so vital. The residents, businesses and organizations who depend on this system can inform the decisions our City Council makes.”

According to the release the OneWater Committee will be a diverse group of people, including private property owners, large and small business, tax-exempt organizations, other governmental bodies and environmental advocates.

They will participate in a series of public hearings on the storm water issues that will be held at ROOM, 305 SW Water St. in Peoria. The first session will be May 20 from 6:40 to 8 p.m., followed by a session June 17 from noon to 1:30 p.m., July 15 from noon to 1:30 p.m. and Aug. 19, noon to 1:30 p.m.

“We named this the OneWater Committee because we are one community with one watershed,” Rogers said. “The combined sewers are a legacy problem from Peoria’s early days. They were built to serve a city just getting started. A century later, continued growth has caused other issues. More parking lots, shopping centers, driveways and other impervious surfaces has increased the amount of runoff that must be managed. Peoria is full of innovative, committed people. Together, I’m confident we can produce workable solutions.”

One possible funding stream could be a storm water utility, such as storm water utilities in Morton, Eureka, Bloomington and Decatur. The OneWater Committee will give input on funding models and credits, such as for property owners who put green infrastructure on their properties. It also may help decide green infrastructure locations.

Green infrastructure, the release said, could include pervious pavers and natural plantings.

The committee also will give input on storm water management priorities, including inspecting underground pipes, repairing infrastructure, street sweeping and other issues, the city release said.

Among the issues the city faces is increasing regulatory requirements from the U.S. EPA. That agency has mandated that the city develop a long-term plan to reduce overflows from combined storm/sanitary sewers. That is because when storm water from rain or snow overwhelms combined sewers, untreated sewage discharges into the Illinois River. “Stricter requirements under the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit mean that number must be brought as close to zero as possible,” the release said.

Peoria has proposed using green infrastructure to capture storm water and keep it from entering the combined sewers. Negotiations with regulators are ongoing.

Unfortunately, funding constraints have prevented the city from keeping up with the maintenance and upgrades needed in its storm sewer system. As of early 2015 there is a backlog of 80 projects, including 15 “high-severity projects that involve life safety issues such as sinkholes, the potential for collapsing pipe or potential structure flooding.” There are also six significant projects that are large enough to require capital budgeting under the Community Investment Plan, the release said.

The city provided some “fast facts” about the issues, including:

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).