With apologies to BJ Thomas: “Raindrops keep falling on my head.”
You may remember this song from the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
I remember her every time Norman showers. I remember this because flood waters encroach on my yard and threaten to flood my house.
“These raindrops are falling on my head, dripping incessantly…”
“So I spoke to The Sun and said I don’t like the way he gets things done/sleeping on the job…”
This verse is a reminder that we must “get things done,” and it turns out that we are.
Although we’re not quite solving Norman’s storm water problems, neighborhoods across the city are still vulnerable to flooding, and water quality issues remain. (Norman is working under a waiver from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.)
We are taking steps to update documents aimed at providing the minimum standards that must be applied in lamination and to allow for new developments in Norman.
A key part of that action: Two years ago, Norman City Council commissioned a review and update of engineering design standards.
The current standards were approved by the Council in 1996, and only minor modifications have been made since then.
“But one thing I know – the Blues they sent to meet me / Won’t beat me, it won’t be long / Till Happiness ascends to greet me…”
The latest word is that the new design standards will be submitted to the City Council for approval on January 9th. Every now and then, at least two public forums (one in person) will be scheduled, along with a board study session.
Good news: That “happiness” thing.
Full disclosure: I participated in the review of these standards as part of a Stakeholders subcommittee. Reviewing and updating design standards was a labor-intensive process that involved architects, town planners, developers, contractors, attorneys, etc.
Stakeholders met on 28 September to review the draft report. With appendices, the draft was 292 pages long. The final report will likely reach the 300 page mark.
As you might imagine, the report is full of definitions and technical requirements (general standards, water lines, sewers, streets, rainwater, rainwater quality, sustainable development of rainwater).
The standards contain countless details regarding drainage ramps, storm drains, manholes, connections, etc. There are pages and pages of formulas that describe and define what actions are allowed.
As a resident who faced residential flooding, my focus was on the stormwater sections of the document—two in particular.
• Section 5000: Not surprisingly, precipitation affects floods. When planning a new development, the developer must adhere to the engineering design standards in the planning drawing.
Among other things, the developer must calculate the flow of water: what is the result of water flow on the roof and on adjacent plots of land. The amount of precipitation is important, but so is the intensity.
There are models that describe different scenarios – models that characterize precipitation: NOAA Atlas 14, Volume 8 last updated in 2013 and is scheduled to be revised and updated no later than 2023; and topographical models that literally describe “the land of the Earth”.
Look at the date of the last approved design criteria – 1996 – and the date of the most recent precipitation model – 2013. Our understanding of weather and precipitation analysis tools has improved since 1996.
The use of “state of the flag” tools is imperative in the authorization process. If the updated standards could be applied to developments approved under the 1996 standards, some neighborhood flooding might have been avoided.
While that cannot happen, the updated standards can help mitigate some flooding problems in the future.
• Section 7000: Under “Sustainable Stormwater Development” are lists of stormwater control measures that contribute to Norman’s stewardship of land and improve water quality.
Topics such as “rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, green roofs, and biological filtration ponds” are discussed in detail.
Developers are encouraged to adopt some of these ideas whenever appropriate. Good ideas, but what is lacking are incentives for these developers to adopt these practices.
The design standards document is silent on incentives but provides a starting point for consideration by the city government.
“I will never stop the rain by complaining…”
Adoption of updated engineering design standards is important – with accompanying (future) definition of incentives for developers.
To this point, at least one developer in the city is already developing projects with an emphasis on aesthetics and sustainable development of rainwater. This approach has boosted the popularity of these areas, thus boosting sales.
With incentives, the practice of sustainable storm water development will gain popularity.
If approval of these standards is useful moving forward, there remains the task of resolving current problems with flooding and water quality.
I will be optimistic. I am aware of specific initiatives in the process to address these challenges. This may be the subject of a future column.
“I’ll never stop the rain by complaining/Because I’m free/Nothing to worry about.”