Columbia's Stormwater System

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COLUMBIA - The sound of rain can be soothing.  But if this city could talk, it would tell you rain is one of its biggest nightmares. 

Columbia is a city full of beauty, "You can't go one direction without running into a local creek or stream," said Mike Heimos, Columbia's Stormwater Educator.

The system has a few visible flaws but its worst lie below the surface.  "Maintaining this infrastructure is important, you don't always see it, it lies under our feet," said Heimos.

The city installed stormwater infrastructure in the 1940s to control the flow of rain water leading it into streams and creeks. "The infrastructure now is infrastructure that was put in some time ago, and infrastructure starts to fail," said Heimos.

Without proper maintainence, these pipes are comparable to a 70-year-old with a poor diet and little exercise.

And this less than healthy stormwater infrastructure is the support underneath all of our houses, roads, and buildings. "We don't have any parts of town that are immune from stormwater problems," said engineer, Jim Thaxter.

The city created a storm water utility to maintain the pipes, but that didn't happen until 1993. "Unfortunately the city doesn't have any control over how much it is going to rain at one time," said Thaxter.

But it does have control over funding, and the last time the city saw an increase in funding was also, 1993.  It's not just the old age of the drains, their dire need for replacement and the lack of money being put into the project is our fault too--litter, pollution and leaves accumulate. "These get matted down and clog," said Heimos, leaving blocked passage ways.

"Those clogs can cause major issues, it can cause buildup, it can damage the system and cause major flooding," said Heimos. So why should the citizens be concerned? Because of the potential for a catastrophic failure.  For example, a Wisconsin car fell into a massive hole because of storm water pipe failure.

"That's one of the reasons we ask people not to drive through running water when its across the roads, you really don't know what's under there and if the road is there or not," said Thaxter.

The same thing can happen with houses and building too along with an, "Erosion problem people are having in their yard, a standing water problem, water that comes from the neighbor's property," said Thaxter, most maintainence is done because of immediate need.

Most maintenance is done on a case by case basis, but emergency only replacement costs about three times as much as doing regular maintainence. There's no easy fix for a problem of this size, it takes time, a lot of work and resources to maintain infrastructure.