Program establishes state-led teams that work together to reduce risk
By Peter H. Milliken
The solution to the Mahoning Valley’s flooding problems requires a coordinated multiagency response at all levels of government, said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official.
“When agencies work together, they can share ideas and knowledge, and they become more efficient by leveraging resources, data, talent and funding,” Mike Debes, flood-plain manager with the corps’ Pittsburgh office, told the audience Tuesday at an interagency public-information meeting on flood-risk management at Lowellville High School.
The Corps’ Silver Jackets program establishes state-led interagency teams that work together to reduce flood risk.
“There is no single agency that has all of the answers, but, when many agencies come together, they can provide a cohesive solution. This meeting is an example of a Silver Jackets program. We have folks from all different agencies,” Debes added.
The meeting, sponsored by the Corps’ Pittsburgh District, was in a village with steep hillsides along the Mahoning River, which experienced major flood-related street damage after heavy rains last summer.
“We had flooding last year to the tune of $1.3 million” in flood-damage repairs after a 3-inch rain in one hour, Lowellville Mayor James Iudiciani told the audience during his opening remarks.
The six months of flood-damage repair to village streets and storm sewers was funded by the Ohio Public Works Commission, Water Development Authority and Emergency Management Agency and the village.
The hilly terrain above the Mahoning River in Lowellville is conducive to major erosion and flash flooding because of the velocity of the water racing downhill, explained Sarah Jamison, a Cleveland-based National Weather Service meteorologist and hydrologist.
“That kind of rainfall rate of 3 inches in an hour is somewhere between a [once in] 500- and a 1,000-year rain event,” Jamison said.
“We’re seeing the extreme rainfall rates becoming more common in ways that they never used to before,” with climate change being the suspected cause, she explained.
“It’s overwhelming storm-drainage systems that have been there for a long time and have been able to handle water, but, because of the intense rainfall rates, even some of your most-sophisticated storm-drainage systems can’t handle excessive rainfall rates,” Jamison said.
McGill Street in Lowellville, which was hardest hit, was closed for three months by the raging torrent of water flowing down the steep hill, Iudiciani said.
“Not only was flooding coming over the top of the road, it pressurized the storm [sewer] system, which picked up the whole road and blew the road right up,” he explained.
Landowners and municipalities can take preventive steps to reduce the risk of flooding by detaining rainwater and slowing its runoff into streams, an environmental specialist said.
Stephanie Dyer, environmental program manager at the Youngstown-based Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said such measures include installation of permeable parking-lot pavement that lets water soak into the ground and of rain gardens, which detain and absorb the water.
“Anything that retains water on your own property for a period of time to allow it to filter through nature itself into the ground and recharge the ground water, rather than just running off straight into a stream, would help alleviate flooding,” Dyer said.
Dyer said examples of permeable parking-lot pavement with rain gardens can be found at Mill Creek Park’s Newport Wetlands and Lily Pond, where the spaces between paving bricks allow rain water to enter the ground.
Federal money passing through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency funded $55,354 of the $125,000 cost of the 2013 Newport project. An OEPA grant funded all the cost of this year’s $123,600 Lily Pond project.
The Mahoning County Land Bank installed a $17,000 rain garden last year after it demolished a house at 681 Coitsville Road in Campbell. That garden was paid for by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
The forum also included speakers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio and Mahoning County emergency management agencies, and the Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District.