Matt Eblen has paused while working out to watch properly functioning storm drainage through gutters at the gym. He has noticed the grading around a house and lack of proper drainage along a roadway before any other feature. It’s the lens through which he sees the world.
Stormwater team leader in Shafer, Kline & Warren’s (SKW) development services group, Eblen specializes in addressing stormwater challenges for communities and new developments to help provide solutions for buildings and infrastructure prone to flooding problems.
“If it doesn’t rain for a while, stormwater issues can become forgotten, but when it rains, all that can change very quickly,” said Eblen.
Spring is a time of year when stormwater issues often become visible. Last April brought 3.29 inches of rain to the Kansas City metro followed by 10.25 inches in May. Eblen’s expertise allows him to offer insight for understanding stormwater, as well as preventing and addressing challenges.
Water Always Wins
One of the underlying principles of stormwater is that without erosion control, proper grading and drainage in place, water will cause erosion and find a path to the lowest point, even if that path leads into a building.
“One of the first things I look at is topography,” said Eblen. “Sometimes you can see high water marks that show problem areas even when it’s not raining, especially on a building in a low lying area.”
The standard for grading around a new building is a 2 percent minimum grade away from the building, but older buildings may not have been built to this standard or the adjacent ground may have settled over time. Eblen’s work has included retrofitting sites, such as adding drains or flumes around the building to channel water away from the structure.
“If there is a low spot in front of a home or office building, the reality is that water has to go somewhere,” said Eblen. “The important thing is to make addressing drainage issues a priority before there is significant property damage.”
Standards Have Changed
Today, one of the assumptions when planning for stormwater collection and drainage in communities and developments is “ultimate development,” which means planning for complete development of a watershed upstream of a specific area. However, this was not always the case, so some communities must address undersized infrastructure.
“There can be issues when pipes are simply not large enough to accommodate today’s development,” said Eblen. “There is no way to develop a farm field into a major retail center without there being a huge increase in stormwater runoff.”
Today, not only have the assumptions about future development changed, but so have the standards for the impact of stormwater on the ecosystem. As a LEED-accredited professional, Eblen often works with communities and developers to develop green solutions to address environmental impacts of new development on the adjacent stormwater system.
Ask Those Who Live There
When Eblen is working in an area with drainage issues, one of the most important things he does is talk to the residents or city staff who live and work in the problem areas or drive the area affected by the stormwater.
“The people who are there every day often help the most in identifying problem areas,” said Eblen. “When they live and work in those areas, they know what floods when there is a heavy rain. They can point to exactly where the problems occur.”
For municipalities, Eblen suggests conversations with residents or city staff after a rain can help identify problem areas and set priorities for addressing them while it is still a top-of-mind issue.
Remember Not to Create Excess Water
The challenge when there is a quick, intense rain, is that the ground can only absorb a certain amount of water before the rest runs off. Eblen has seen where businesses and residents have created this scenario, too.
“When it doesn’t rain, people or businesses can actually create their own issues because they are watering their lawns too much,” said Eblen. “Over-irrigating can create the same issues as an intense storm, because excess water bleeds over or under the curb and can get under the pavement and cause problems.”
After the water is under the pavement, the changes in temperature can cause pot-holes to form. Eblen has seen roads severely deteriorate because of sprinkler systems consistently overwatering properties.
“Stormwater is something that can affect so many parts of a community, from its rivers and streams to roads, bridges, residences and businesses,” said Eblen. “Not everyone will get excited about proper drainage like I do, but addressing it can make all of our lives safer and easier.”