City Moves to Keep Water Clean

City Moves to Keep Water Clean
Journal Review 1/3/2009
by Frank Phillips

Due to incentives by the Federal Clean Water Act of 1988 and enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Crawfordsville is taking steps to improve water quality.

The city’s recently formed Storm Water Utility Board is working to establish storm water fees that will encourage property owners to eliminate unnecessary hard surfaces that cause rain water to run off rather than soak into the ground. It also will encourage property owners to collect rain water that can be used to water gardens as the water is returned to natural underground reserves.

In 1990 the Clean Water Act prompted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to issue Rule 13, which was an unfunded mandate to improve water quality.

Also In 1990, communities of at least 100,000 population became regulated and in 2003, communities of at least 10,000 population with storm sewer control systems were included, including Crawfordsville.

For five years, Tom Mitchell, the city’s waste water director, worked part-time to be sure the city observed Rule 13, though his main job was to control waste water not storm water.

In January, Gary Weliver became the city’s first full-time MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) operator. He is responsible for coordinating and implementing six minimum control measures specified by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). The six minimum measures are public education and outreach, public involvement and participation, illicit discharge detention and elimination, construction site runoff control, postconstruction runoff control and municipal operations pollution prevention and good housekeeping.

“Mainly, MS4 is all about improving our water quality,” Weliver said. Weliver said Monday that the city has a waste water department to control sewage. There are other departments to control various subjects of mutual concern to residents, but until recently there has been no department to control water quality.

It took an unfunded mandate by the EPA and IDEM to move the city to dedicate a full-time employee to improving water quality. “We’re required to participate in Rule 13 and the MS4 program but there was no money to finance it,” Weliver said.” So the city will have to pay for it.”

In June, 2008, the city’s Storm Water Utility Department Board was established. The board’s mission is two-fold, to control both water quantity (storm water runoff) and water quality. The board is working to establish a storm water utility fee. It is not yet known what the rate will be or how the money will be used, but it is certain the fee will have a carrot and stick element to it.

Each property owner will be charged for the square footage of impervious surface on his property, such as cement, asphalt and buildings, Weliver said. The fee can be reduced by eliminating those surfaces that cause rainwater to run off instead of soaking into the ground. For example, if a factory owner has a parking lot he is not using, he could reduce his storm water fee assessment by tearing up the asphalt and seeding grasses in that area.

That would be a direct credit, Weliver said. Weliver would like to see a rain barrel program started. Plastic 55-gallon barrels could be supplied at no charge or at a reduced charge. The barrels would be used to catch rain from gutters and the water would be used to water gardens.

The government is interested in such measures because for decades, beginning with development of Montgomery County so many years ago, rain water has been controlled by removing it rather than keeping it here.

“We used to get it out of town as fast as possible so it didn’t cause a flood,” Weliver said. “Now we also want to clean up the water and give it a chance to infiltrate the ground so our aquifers don’t run dry.” Not only does water drained from the county reduce the amount of clean fresh water available locally, but it tends to pollute areas downstream, Weliver said.

When water is drained into storm water sewers, it is sent to Sugar Creek to the Wabash River to the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. As it runs off cement and asphalt the water picks up grease, antifreeze, brake pad dust and other pollutants and carries them south. If the water can be kept there, it is naturally filtered by vegetation and the earth before it is returned to the water table, Weliver said.

The Storm Water Utility Department Board members include President Jerry Whalen, Secretary Charlie Dresser, Assistant Secretary Sean Gerold, Kurt Conklin, Jim swift and Christopher Kaufman Jr. The board meets at 5:30 p.m. the third Thursday each month in the City Building. For more information, contact Weliver at (765) 364-5153 or by e-mail at gweliver@crawfordsville.