Every time it rains, it really does pour — especially in certain areas of Georgetown.
And it has led to the Georgetown City Council approving $69,000 for a study of the city’s stormwater system to identify problem areas, potential solutions and how much it may cost. Strand Associates will be conducting the study for probably the next year.
“We want to provide the council the right information to have a productive conversation and let the facts lead us to suggested actions,” Mayor Tom Prather said. “We don’t want to do something and outrun our ability to fund them. We are going to take and even, methodical process to understand it. To do otherwise would be unfair to the public.”
The stormwater system is just one of a number of infrastructure issues the city and county are facing due to the rapid growth that is taxing systems. And the above-normal rain the area has experienced last year and so far this year just compounds the problem.
“We work to maintain what we have and look at what infrastructure is needed to fix it,” said Andrew Hartley, Georgetown’s chief administrative officer. “The old infrastructure can’t handle it.”
“The ground gets saturated and that just exacerbates the problem,” City Engineer Eddie Hightower added.
“We know where the problem areas are, but we need to learn more about them,” Prather said. “The difference with stormwater is large areas of water pool together in a system that was designed for a smaller city.”
The problem areas are older sections of downtown Georgetown and an area at Georgetown College from Bradford Dam behind Georgetown Middle School to Royal Spring, which includes the South Broadway homes across from Garth Elementary and the college. There are also several places along Old Oxford Road and Oxford Road due to undersized storm drains.
Hightower said the city is continually assessing and mapping the infrastructure, including the stormwater system. However, they are finding some areas that need to be added to the map so Strand can analyze the conditions of the system accurately.
Prather said the city works to address issues, particularly localized flooding areas.
“We’ve done some little repairs to address the localized issues, but those are band-aids,” Prather said. “Right now those band-aids are costing the city $800,000-$900,000 a year.”
The stormwater system is more complex than grates and drains. It includes ditcheries, curbs, inlets (slot areas along the curbs that water runs into), catch basins, retention basins, BMP water quality units that catches trash before it runs into outfalls into creeks. Hightower said the city does the required maintenance to comply with its MS4 Permit, which is a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Service that mandates its stormwater and sewer systems are separate. Part of that is good garbage collection and sweeping the streets to keep bacteria and trash from getting into the system. An example of a retention basin is what the city built when they bought the Bradshaw farm several years ago or what is behind the hospital property. And new residential developments must ensure they are putting in the appropriate systems to handle stormwater runoff.
But maintaining a stormwater system is not cheap. For example, Hightower and Hartley said a retention basin needs to have the right plants, it may need to be dredged and other repairs to make sure it meets the permit compliance requirements.
Recent unprogrammed stormwater costs the city has had to cover includes two phases at Derby Estates totaling nearly $300,000, $106,850 for work on Hollyhock Pipe Replacement and $24,125 for improvements at Royal Spring Channel. Those alone totaled $426,040.
During its presentation to the city council at its last meeting, Strand Associates suggested the city could consider creating a dedicated funding source for stormwater management. One thing some cities have taken on is creating a stormwater utility, but officials said they are a long way from doing that.
“We would need to do a utility study. See if there is one in Kenucky, and if so, what do they do, what is the maintenance schedule,” Hartley said. “We would have to have data to legally support utility funding. One of the purposes of this study is to see what the costs and obligations are and what the day-to-day operation would be if a stormwater utility was created.
“This helps take the numbers, put them in our budget and see what the best solution would be.”
Prather said the “band-aids” the city is currently doing are getting more expensive.
“We need to understand what the stormwater system needs are and how it impacts the general fund. It does begin to create a drain on the budget and other areas to keep doing band-aids.,” he said. “This will help us address a long-standing problem and help the council make an informed decision.”
Steve MCClain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.