As torrential fall rains give way to another freezing winter, Grand Forks city leaders are worried about how homeowners are handling excessive precipitation – and whether a city ordinance needs to change.
A September storm dumped more than 5 inches of rain on the city and, since then, residents’ sump pumps have been working to keep that water out of their basements and push it onto streets, where it runs into the city’s stormwater system.
But as temperatures drop, large sheets of ice have built up in city gutters, and all that ice could mean frozen storm sewers, blocked driveways and damage to city equipment, according to a report by city administrators and engineers. It also could make it tougher for streets to drain properly when the weather warms in the spring.
An informal study of 382 north Grand Forks homes found that about 10% of them pumped groundwater onto the street. Public Works Operations Director LeahRae Amundson said she thinks that’s representative of Grand Forks as a whole.
She also presented to council members a map showing dozens of south Grand Forks residences where city workers have tried to chip away at built-up ice in the street. There's no way to effectively and affordably remove the built-up ice in cold weather, she said.
So what’s the solution?
For the moment, city staff expressed hope that residents pump water onto their lawns, but also might ask City Council members to change a longstanding rule that prevents property owners from pumping stormwater directly into the city’s wastewater system – in other words, simply hooking their sump pump directly into an in-house drain system rather than draining it outside. At present, the practice is illegal.
The ban is designed to avoid unnecessarily treating groundwater and overloading the city’s wastewater system. City workers regularly reminded residents about it in the immediate aftermath of the September storm.
Grand Forks could change the ordinance to allow homeowners to hook their sump pumps up to the wastewater system during specific times of the year – Fargo allows it Oct. 1 to March 31 – and City Council President Dana Sande suggested charging residents a small fee to do so.
“Instead of having all of our – or a significant number of – people doing it illegally, we should adapt to what they’re doing,” Sande said.
City leaders might also try lifting the ban, at least temporarily, in a specific neighborhood or segment of the city.
A city consulting firm indicated that the city’s wastewater system presently has enough room according to a report by Amundson, Waterworks Director Melanie Parvey and City Engineer Al Grasser.
Here is that report, as presented to the City Council.