When village trustees gave the green light for a program to help reduce basement flooding in the basements of Brookfield homes on June 24, they also approved a new law requiring all homeowners to disconnect their downspouts from the combined sewer system.
According to the law, unless a homeowner is able to get an exemption from the village, the downspouts must be disconnected by Jan. 1, 2015.
What does that mean? It means homes whose downspouts presently drain into an underground pipe connected to the sewer system have to be physically disconnected. Typically, that will mean cutting the lower portion of the downspout with a hacksaw, capping the old drain opening and attaching a downspout extension to the cut pipe to divert the storm water into the backyard or front yard.
Homeowners who have disconnected their downspouts often add a plastic sleeve to the downspout extension to direct water to specific areas and keep storm water from flowing into neighboring properties or away from window wells. Others choose to place rain barrels under the disconnected downspouts.
During particularly heavy rains, that will mean a lot of storm water will rush into the yard, possibly ponding there for a time before soaking into the ground. But that’s better than the alternative of having storm water flow into the combined sewer system, according to Derek Treichel, Brookfield’s village engineer.
Treichel said, based on simple calculations he’s made, there is nearly as much roof area in Brookfield as there is pavement. And while there’s no guarantee that a portion of the diverted storm runoff won’t end up in the combined sewers, it will take some of the pressure off an already over-burdened system.
“We’re not taking all of it off the system, but we’re reducing the peak flow,” said Treichel. “We have to choose where we want to put the water. Though it’s not ideal [to have standing water in yards], it’s preferable to basement flooding.”
And basement flooding is what happens when the combined sewer system gets filled beyond capacity. Much of the village is connected by the combined system, which collects both storm runoff and household sanitary waste.
Anything to divert storm runoff from the combined system will help reduce basement flooding, said Keith Sbiral, Brookfield assistant village manager and chief of planning and building.
“The reality is anyone would agree that water in the backyard is better than water in the basement,” Sbiral said.
Some areas of town — more as road construction is done around the village — have separate storm sewers, which also take storm water out of the combined system. But combined sewers are the norm.
The village of Brookfield has also added restrictor valves to its storm and combined sewers to slow the flow of street runoff into those pipes, which may flood streets for a period of time, but helps prevent those systems from filling too quickly.
“It’s better to have a street closed than have thousands of dollars in property damage to basements,” said Sbiral, adding that if homeowners wanted to take the storm runoff management even further, they could install planting beds with native species of plants. Those plants typically have deep root systems and drain more quickly than simple turf grass.
But the point of the downspout disconnection program, he said, is simply to keep millions of cubic feet of water out of the sewer system.
“It’s something we can do locally at a minimal cost,” Sbiral said.
He noted that the village in the next month will be creating an awareness program for the law and have available information on how to disconnect downspouts and divert storm water on your property.
How will the village enforce the downspout disconnection program? It’s unlikely that inspectors will be hunting for violations, but the village will be able to connect with homeowners whenever homes are sold or when homeowners file for building permits or need utilities inspected.