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City Works to Improve Storm Water Management

Jun 29, 2016

John Liesveld | Fremont Tribune

{Water gurgles up two manholes and turns the street beyond into a river after last weeks extreme rain event that overwhelmed Fremont’s storm water and waste water systems. | Evan Nordstrom, Fremont Tribune}

From above, far above, the contours of Fremont might leave something to be desired in the way of geography. Nestled in the Platte River Valley, Fremont sits like an oddly shaped pancake …

In other words, flat.

For City Engineer, Justin Zetterman, that featureless topography spreading out from the Platte River means a bit more work and consideration when plodding through the issues and upgrades of storm water management.

Following a series of heavy rains in early May that resulted in pooling water in areas of the city where subdivision development lacked an adequately defined storm water management program, city officials called a special meeting. They met on May 12 with contractors and developers to address the problem. The meeting served as the initial step in finding solutions to achieve better storm water management and enforcement.

From that very first meeting in May, Zetterman and others dug in and have been drawing up plans, tweaking ordinances and implementing steps to improve the city’s Storm Water Master Plan.

Zetterman took a moment to outline “six minimum control measures” contained in the master plan which he continues to update and develop through more specified ordinances and special programs initiated by the city.

The six minimum control measures are: public education and outreach; public involvement and participation; illicit discharge and elimination; construction site and storm water runoff control; post construction management; and pollution prevention/good housekeeping.

The first two, public education and involvement, include events such as last May’s presentation at the Omaha Children’s Museum. Zetterman exhibited a flood plain model that educates young minds using a table-sized, working flood plain simulation. Water goes in one end and flows through, reproducing the different routes by which the water takes over human developed areas versus natural wetlands. Zetterman and city official will also present the model at a booth during John C. Fremont Days.

{Justin Zetterman, Fremont city engineer and Tanna Wirtz at the Omaha Children’s Museum on May 21st demonstrationg the floodplain model. | Courtesy Justin Zetterman, city engineer}

“We want to improve on outreach and public education and look for ways to get them involved,” Zetterman said.

The third measure, reducing illicit discharge and elimination, involves developing a better system to detect forbidden, unwanted or damaging items that make their way into the storm water system. Illicit discharges can include anything not entirely composed of storm water, such as rinsing paint brushes into the gutters, oil leaks from cars, pesticides and fertilizers, grass clippings and many other items.

“We want to improve on creating a better mechanism for the public to respond to issues if somebody sees something,” Zetterman said, referring to illicit discharges.

The special meeting hosted by Zetterman and the city on May 12 for contractors and developers addressed minimum control measures for construction site and post construction management of storm water. Ordinance enhancements that pertain to the degrees to which a contractor needs to manage runoff from construction sites was discussed at that meeting. It includes erosion, sediment and trash control on construction sites.

“It means having some sort of plan or measure in place to control storm water runoff volume and storm water quality (minimizing amount of pollutants, trash and vehicle leaks),” Zetterman explained.

Currently the city has storm water ordinances for construction and development but Zetterman confessed that no standard or defined requirements exist which hampers enforcement.

Currently, Zetterman said the city continues to work on developing backyard drainage ordinances to assist in minimizing complications of standing water. The next step, Zetterman explained, will involve drawing up storm water retention and detention requirements.

Detention means holding back storm water for a time, during heavy rain, in specialized area (pond or specially built detention cell). Then the water is slowly released into the storm drainage system. Retention comprises retaining water in a pond or specified structure allowing the ground to slowly reabsorb it.

Zetterman also discussed last weekends unprecedented down pour that sent rivers down streets and turned fields into lakes. It only served to compound the concern and urgency for implementing a better Storm Water Management Master Plan.

{Though not technically part of the city’s storm water management system, this gutter drain serves as a home’s or apartment’s management system. The water it guides down from the rooftop eventually reaches the city’s system. | John Liesveld, Fremont Tribune}

“I would have called (that flooding) a storm water issue,” Zetterman said. “It wasn’t the traditional flood plain areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency defines and controls … it was flash flooding.”

However, Zetterman and city officials have pointed out, six to eight inches of rainfall in the span of only three or four hours results in a deluge that any city would struggle to contain.

Still, Zetterman remains dedicated to focusing internally, on the municipality, ensuring proper operating procedures when it comes to storm water runoff from city-owned buildings and other areas.

“Our goal is to do our best to be a good example for the community,” Zetterman said.

Additionally, this fall, the city will receive detailed contour data through a technology known as Light Detection and Ranging. Along with aerial photography and survey work around the city, Zetterman hopes to obtain a more detailed and accurate picture of the storm water system.

“(The mapping) can help us find locations and ways we can improve on a citywide level,” Zetterman said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality require a city like Fremont to utilize a Storm Water Master Plan. Fremont, as an MS4 (Municipal Separated Storm Sewer System) city operates separate storm water and waste water sewage systems. Under the rules of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the city’s storm water management focuses on assuring that rainfall sailing down from the skies to the blacktop, buildings and other concrete structures below is treated and filtered before entering the natural water ways like Rawhide Creek and Elkhorn and Platte Rivers.

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