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Is Your Storm Facility a Buried Treasure?


It is a wonderful dream – you stumble across a long-lost map that points the way to a hidden chest of riches. Grab a shovel and start digging!

You may already have a map that shows you where something of high value is buried. It’s called a storm drainage plan, and if you own or are responsible to maintain an underground storm facility and have been neglecting it, your dream of finding buried treasure could turn into a nightmare. Instead of being the lucky soul who discovers the treasure and gets to keep it, you may find yourself the one who buries the treasure by spending a fortune replacing a failed storm drainage system.

This past December the Portland metro area got slammed with almost 16 inches of rain. All storm facilities were strained to – and some beyond – their limits. Even facilities that were relatively new or had been properly maintained had a hard time keeping up. Others simply failed - miserably. These storm system failures happened for a variety of reasons. The most common was lack of basic maintenance, and running a close second was a simple misunderstanding of how the system worked.

Nothing lasts forever. That is especially true with storm drainage facilities, many of which live an abused existence. Anything and everything that falls on the ground ends up in a storm system, and while they are designed to handle a lot, every facility has its breaking point.

For example, a local multi-family development had privately-maintained, onsite stormwater quality and infiltration systems. For the first several years after completion, the storm system was well-maintained and functioned flawlessly. Then a staffing change occurred and the institutional knowledge of the system was lost. Regular maintenance ceased, and over time silt, fir needles, grass clippings, trash, etc. overwhelmed the sumps, traps, and other components meant to protect the infiltration system. Unfortunately, no one recognized this until water ponded in the parking areas and flooded adjacent garages. When the system was finally assessed, the infiltration system was so plugged it only had 1/800th of its original capacity remaining.

Once storm systems are plugged, there is often no way to clean them and restore function. They have to be replaced, and that is very expensive.

You don’t have to bury more treasure. Storm system failures can be prevented. Make sure your facilities managers, maintenance crews, landscape contractors, and tenants know how your storm system works and what to do – and NOT do – to it. If you know what your storm system consists of, then make a small investment in time and effort to assess its condition three times per year:

  • Once in the spring, after the long winter rainy season
  • Once in the fall, to make sure you are ready for the rainy season
  • Once during a period of heavy weather to ensure the system is functioning as it should

Also, all systems will require replacement eventually. Do you know the life span of your system? Do you know how much it costs to replace? Do you have a plan to build up funds for eventual replacement? Answering these three questions will keep you from needing to find a treasure chest to bury in the ground.

Have you experienced a storm system failure? Do you budget for and perform regular maintenance? Please leave a comment or email me - I’m interested in hearing about your experience.

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Photo credit: Adobe Stock / Denis Tabler

Topics: Land Development, Residential Land Development, Commercial/Industrial Land Development

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