In the aftermath of recent flooding, the city of St. Louis has labored to protect vital infrastructure from the damages that the flooding has created. This includes wastewater treatment plants, highway bridges, embankments and more. St. Louis has collected necessary information on water flow data and level to be entered into the National Water Information System. This essential tool is specifically for monitoring heavy storms that can potentially cause damages, as well as to forecast floods and droughts in real time. Some communities in Missouri continue to battle rising floodwaters, while others are beginning their recovery efforts. As water levels begin to recede on some smaller rivers, residents are encouraged to use caution near flood water as contaminants can pose a health risk. It is estimated that nearly 200 homes have been impacted by the floods, with many more at risk of exposure to the flood-like conditions.
Interesting fact: did you know that residential waste stabilization lagoons are commonly used for onsite sewage treatment? The lagoons are used when the soils are unsuitable for the traditional gravity flow drain field systems. A lagoon consists of an artificial pool for the treatment of sewage, or to accommodate surface water that overflows the storm drains during heavy rain. Interestingly, a septic tank is the most common onsite sewage treatment system for cities throughout Missouri. However, a connection to the city’s sewer system is the most reliable means of sewage disposal.
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The city of St. Louis has many homes that are set on top of hilly landscape and far off driveways, that lead the way to a somewhat hidden home. Several properties are woody, with shrubs and trees lining the entrances. Some of the landscape that is planted is pivotal in avoiding the issues that infiltration of storm water can cause. Residents have also taken to natural preventatives such as rain gardens, creating a proactive barrier to absorb rainwater. Landscaping, trees, shrubs are known to lessen the negative effects of wet weather events into the sewer systems as well as add aesthetic value to properties. Excessive stormwater can worsen flooding, as well as cause a rise to the sea level, promoting shoreline erosion and damage to affected neighborhoods.
The city has implemented a measure to counteract such damages by building a large rain garden in north St. Louis. Last year the city experienced major flooding which created a massive sewer overflow of about 200 million gallons. This was one of the largest nationwide- within a timeframe of over two years, leaving many residents and businesses to regain and rebuild. The widespread flooding was worst along the Meramec River in the southern part of the St. Louis region. An estimate of 7,000 structures were damaged. The city has since been inventive in its approach; putting in place strategies to better protect treatment plants from major floods. A levee built to withstand a 500-year flood was not enough to prevent a ruinous situation.
Interestingly, a rain garden can help prevent low levels of flooding. Most storms that come through St. Louis typically deliver a little over an inch of rain over the course of 24 hours. A garden full of native perennial plants could potentially capture the first inch of rainfall. Generally, the cost to build a rain garden can range from ten to fifteen dollars per square foot. Specific areas of the city are offering a grant program to encourage homeowners, businesses, and organizations in their rainscaping endeavors.
St. Louis is among the U.S. cities where millions of gallons of sewage has flowed into rivers and streams causing a growing concern for better resources to handle this influx. St. Louis and other cities that have trouble handling heavy rains, are implementing better procedures in order to address the dilemma. Recent research has concluded that within the span of approximately a year, the city has encountered more than 60 sewer overflows. The aging combined sewer systems, which exist in many Northeastern and Midwest cities, are in a state of disrepair, thereby increasing the risk of a major overflow. In some cases, the combination of untreated sewage and storm runoff has overflowed into nearby waterways, by way of outfall pipes, or into streets flowing up through storm drains or manholes.
The city plans to spend up to $4 billion- over the next two decades- to repair the county’s sewer system. The upgrades will include rehabilitating old pipes, as well as, the construction of nine large underground tunnels to expand capacity for the city. The primary focus for this effort is to revitalize and protect the city’s infrastructure, homes and businesses. While the city is implementing several safeguarding procedures and sewage system improvements, heavy rains will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. An increase in global warming is also thought to be part of the reason for the increase of dramatic rain events. The city is now evaluating the steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of climate change. Environmental coordinators have suggested that the St. Louis area needs a more comprehensive approach to climate resiliency, such as the use of rain gardens, and other environmentally friendly measures to divert rainwater from sewer systems. Green infrastructure, green space and planting trees have all become a popular and useful means to capture water.
A side note: recently, Lake St. Louis experienced sewer back-ups and other issues due to a camera which became stuck in a pipeline. During a recent assessment of the city’s sewer lines, the camera was lodged in a 10-inch sewer pipe in one of the two lakes contained within Lake St. Louis. City employees have completed the necessary bypass pumping around the lake. When incidents occur that may provoke a sewer overflow, it’s advisable for homeowners to move valuables from basements to higher ground, as a precautionary measure.
Recent flooding has been an ongoing concern for residents of St. Louis and surrounding areas. Heavy rains have caused many properties to experience damages in the form of landslides, erosion and sewer backups. Additionally, just a few months ago, the rain set a record as the highest level, to date. With extensive rain persisting, if you happen to have a well, it can become a compounding problem. If your well has been flooded, the well and entire water system should be cleaned and disinfected. Floods can contaminate wells with silt, raw sewage, oil and disease organisms. There are a few first steps you’ll want to consider. Start by removing silt and debris from the well and examine the casing, motors and pumps, piping, electrical and other system components for damage. Consult a serviceman if damage is extreme or if you are unable to make repairs. To disinfect a well start by pumping the water until it is clear. Scrub and disinfect the pump room and wash all equipment with at least a 2 percent chlorine solution. Remove the well seal or plug at the top of the casing. Pour a solution of one quart of laundry bleach and 3 gallons of water into the top of the casing. Leave it there at least four hours, preferably overnight.
St. Louis, are you looking for an environmentally sound way to volunteer? How about the Great Rivers Greenway? The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, and Missouri American Water are hosting the 8th annual Confluence Trash Bash, being held on Saturday, March 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Area residents are invited to join cleanup efforts, helping to improve the condition of local waterways. To date, volunteers have removed more than 5,400 tires and about 100 tons of trash from area streams and rivers. Prizes will be awarded to volunteers who find the weirdest, biggest, and most expensive trash that morning.