Many Fort Dodge homeowners dread the rain.
Years of bad experiences have taught them that water will come up through drains and into their houses as fast as it falls from the sky. To make matters worse, sewage also bubbles up.
Causes of the problem can be found underground, where generations of past practices have left the city with sanitary sewers that fill with rainwater which can back up into houses.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Kim Peterson, head grower at Eddie’s Greenhouse, looks over merchandise while helping to clean up from recent flooding. The water level in the store almost reached the second tier of shelves.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
One of the storm sewers along South 23rd Street features a grating that can easily become clogged with floating debris. In order for water to reach this drain, which is situated higher than another one nearby, it must already be almost a foot deep.
City officials have budgeted $6 million to be spent over the next two fiscal years fixing the problems with sanitary sewers. Another $3 million is to be invested in storm sewers.
''Are we going to solve the problem with $9 million? No,'' said City Engineer Chad Schaeffer. ''Can we make improvements? Yes.''
He cautioned that thorough testing and planning must be done before repairs are made. A poorly planned repair could alleviate flooding in one spot only to cause it somewhere else, he said.
There are two kinds of sewers in American cities.
Sanitary sewers carry all the waste that goes down the drains and toilets. That water is piped to a wasterwater treatment plant where it undergoes a cleaning process before being discharged into a stream.
Storm sewers carry rain water away from the streets. That water is discharged into a stream without being treated.
''There's more to it than saying we need a bigger pipe,'' Schaeffer said. ''You have to make sure you don't dump it on somebody.''
Presssure to get improvements under way is mounting after storms in late June and late July flooded basements throughout the city.
''We're just a little tired because it's twice this year,'' Gordon Blair, of 1663 11th Ave. N., told the City Council on July 26.
During that same meeting, Councilman Robert ''Barney'' Patterson said, ''I think we should aggressively get a plan together to fix these sooner rather than later.''
Several factors cause trouble
According to Schaeffer, much of the city's sanitary sewer system consists of old clay pipe laid end to end. There are no gaskets and no caulking between the pipes, he said. That means every four feet or so there is a small gap that water can seep into.
Those gaps aren't the only entry point for rain water. Schaeffer said that from the 1940s through the 1960s, home builders routinely connected the footing drains around new houses to the sanitary sewer system.
Also, basement sump pumps have been illegally connected to the sanitary sewer system through the years. To combat that problem, the City Council hired Certified Home Inspection Services of Fort Dodge to check the sump pump connections of houses. Schaeffer said 600 to 700 sump pump inspections have been done so far this summer. A similar inspection program completed in 2008 covered 2,000 homes.
In some places, city crews have found that storm and sanitary sewers are connected.
''It should never have been done,'' Schaeffer said of what he called the ''cross-connections.''
The gaps between old pipes and all the improper connections overwhelm the sanitary sewers with water during rainfalls, causing backups into homes, according to the engineer.
The terrain of Fort Dodge doesn't help its flood-weary residents. Historically, the ground has been marsh-like, according to Schaeffer. Hanging in his Municipal Building office is a 1946 aerial photo of the city in which the area where Crossroads Mall now stands appears to be wetlands.
Fixing the mess
Upgrades to both the sanitary and storm sewer systems are planned. Work on some of the smaller sanitary sewer jobs may begin this fall, with the rest to be launched next spring.
There are two options for improving the sanitary sewers. The less expensive technique is to reline the pipes with a sleeve of plastic.
''It's like a big sock on the inside,'' Schaeffer said.
Placing such a liner in a sewer eliminates the gaps between pipes and enables city crews to plug improper connections, he said.
The more expensive technique to completely replace a sewer. If that is done, the clay pipes will be replaced by plastic ones with rubber gaskets at every point where they connect.
What's been dubbed the East Region Storm Sewer Project would target flooding in the area by Crossroads Mall. Schaeffer said there are two possibilities there. In one, a new storm sewer would connect the area to a drainage ditch south of Eighth Avenue South.
Extending a 72-inch diameter sewer line to the area near Veterans Memorial Bridge on First Avenue South is the other option. That big sewer main is already in place under First Avenue South near 29th Street.
Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org