Podiatry and stormwater management are not that far apart in Art Jenkins’ book.
The city of Spokane Valley’s stormwater engineer understands that, for most citizens, the topic of proper drainage on area streets is about as relevant as the purchase of a new pair of shoes – unless a problem crops up.
“No one ever thinks about stormwater,” Jenkins said. “It’s kind of like your feet. You sort of take them for granted until they start hurting. Then all of the sudden, you wonder how you’re going to walk.”
Jenkins and his crew – part of Spokane Valley’s public works department – make it a point to address stormwater on a year-round basis, even if the majority of residents still can’t tell the difference between a swale and a putting green. During the summer months, when the rain dissipates, workers are concentrating on facility improvements, checking on catch basins and drywells to make sure, in Jenkins’ words, “that we are striving for efficiencies and not wasting ratepayer dollars.”
Spokane County launched a stormwater utility in 1992 – the entity and its accompanying bylaws governed unincorporated Spokane Valley until March 2003 when the city of Spokane Valley passed Ordinance 31 and took over the utility within the new municipal limits. The city’s annual stormwater budget, excluding grants, is $1.7 million.
The stormwater inventory in Spokane Valley includes 1,948 bio-infiltration swales – patches of green that provide treatment for stormwater before it is absorbed into the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, the area’s primary water source. The list of municipal facilities also includes 7,354 drywells/drainage fields and 2,588 catchbasins.
These resources and more prove vital when a heavy rain hits, such as it did in mid-May. Jenkins said these kinds of weather occurrences – on May 15, the Spokane area saw close to an inch of precipitation, nearing breaking a record that has stood since 1959 – provide an opportunity for his department “to track what’s working and what’s not.”
The stormwater troops also rely on citizens to report problem areas such as low spots on the road that are susceptible to flooding. Residents are also urged to call or e-mail City Hall if they see any incidents that violate the “Only Rain in the Drain” program. Those who dump oil, paint, cooking grease and other toxic substances down the gutter face a significant fine from the city if they do not cease polluting. Citizens should call 688-0321 to report a violation.
“It’s that extra set of eyes out there,” Jenkins said. “We appreciate people calling in.”
Citizens should take toxic materials to approved hazardous waste collection sites (the Waste Management location on Sullivan is equipped for such disposals) or have them hauled away by a licensed hazardous waste collection company.
Residents can also help by taking their vehicles to a car wash instead of washing them on the driveway; checking dumpsters and trash receptacles regularly for leaks and picking up and properly disposing of compost leaves, grass clippings and other landscape waste. More information on proper disposal is available on the city’s Web site, www.spokanevalley.org or by calling City Hall at 921-1000.
The city works to clear roads of debris each spring as part of an annual street sweeping program. Principal and arterial streets are addressed each month at a minimum along with gutters while an autumn sweep is designed to clear pine needles and leaves from drains before the winter months descend.
A sediment extraction process called “vactoring” also takes place each year as a way to improve drainage in catch basins, drywells and sidewalk/curb inlets.
In his role as a stormwater technician, Aaron Clary identifies trouble spots on Spokane Valley roads, such as a slight concave in the area of Pines Road and Broadway Avenue that, during a downpour, can lead to the blockage of a lane. Since Pines is recognized as part of Highway 27, the city is working with state officials to remedy the problem. Photos of the Valley from as far back as 1906 show puddles in the same area.
Clary also helps determine how much commercial property owners pay for stormwater management – the fees are comparatively lower when compared to other parts of the state due to Spokane Valley’s level topography and historically absorbent soil. The equation is based on an “equivalent residential unit” average of $21 per 3,160 square feet of impervious, or nonabsorbent, surface area such as sidewalks and roofs. A commercial building with 15,000 feet of impermeable exterior would pay a stormwater fee of $99.75 based on 4.75 equivalent residential units.