April Q&A: on the road with Randy Reimer
Welcome to On the Road with Randy Reimer, a Q&A series featuring Hamilton Kent’s Director of Sales. Each month we’ll chat with Randy about current news in underground infrastructure and how it affects our customers in the industry.
From big cities to small communities, spring thaw brings a deluge of infrastructure issues to municipalities all over North America. Take the city of Calgary, for example, and its recent efforts to clear up clogged storm catch basins, or this New York county’s influx of flood relief funds to support impacted communities and prevent future problems.
This month, we sat down with Randy Reimer to discuss the effects of springtime thaw and share some tips and tricks to help municipalities curb storm drainage and related infrastructure issues.
Hamilton Kent: From a storm drainage perspective, what sort of problems can you expect when ice and snow start to melt in springtime?
Randy Reimer: They really cover the gamut from small problems to big problems. The first thing that people will likely see is catch basins and storm basins that don't drain properly. Oftentimes there are obstructions that fall into the basins over the course of the winter and fall, and that reduces capacity.
It’s also quite common to see flooding. Drainage creeks or waterways will run at their highest capacity, but storm water is always going to find its way to the lowest point in the system.
It then can cause a tremendous amount of damage when it builds up too quickly, so you'll see erosion of river beds, roadways, or culvert areas. It also can cause instability in road bedding, which leads to transportation problems.
HK: What about the big problems?
RR: The whole sanitary system can be overloaded by all this excess storm water, and that can turn into big problems. The water can back up into people's homes, or into the roadway, which can create environmental issues. It affects treatment plant capacity, which can be exceeded. It can even lead to discharges of wastewater.
I'll point to an example of what occurred in Montreal in 2015. There were a lot of heavy rains that occurred in the fall, and the city of Montreal had to release eight billion gallons of untreated wastewater into the St. Lawrence River, and there was a big hullabaloo.
Another similar problem is that when waterways flood, the water can rise above sanitary collection structures and literally pour into the system, and that's going to lead to a problem in your wastewater treatment plant downstream. Almost every municipality has a problem like that.
HK: What kind of problems does this cause for the general public compared to the municipalities?
RR: The public are only going to see the big issues. They see storm water charges on their utility bills, but generally, they're only going to really notice the issue when they're inconvenienced — so if their basement floods or they see traffic disruptions, those kinds of things.
The municipal maintenance workers are the ones who really see the impact. They're the ones who have to clean it up, which, of course, means cost. Cost is ultimately the most significant impact of this problem because crews are running flat out to try to resolve these issues, limit the damage, and also prepare for it.
HK: Do you hear a lot of storm drainage conversations around this time of year?
RR: It's not really a seasonal issue, but we see it in the form of spec changes.
Our customers are mostly impacted because they see specifications on projects are getting tighter and more stringent, so municipalities are trying to make the entire storm and sanitary system more watertight.
It's especially true for regions that have the bulk of their storm water issues concentrated in smaller periods of time, like in drier areas that occasionally have heavy rains — such as California or Utah — or in places like Ontario or Quebec, where precipitation gets locked up in the form of ice and snow, and then it can be released in a very short period of time during a quick thaw in the spring.
HK: How do municipalities react to storm drainage problems?
RR: They're reacting to it by requiring more watertight systems. I would say there's a perception out in the market, especially where gaskets are not specified, that by requiring water systems to be more watertight, they think it's going to add a significant amount of cost to their project.
The reality is that adding gaskets — or making the system watertight through connections, rubber connections and gaskets — is probably only going to add two to three percent in terms of the total cost. Requiring the water system to be watertight is a pretty strong reaction to these kinds of issues.
We’re also seeing a lot more retention and detention projects, both in the private development market and in the public domain. They're trying to contain storm water that would otherwise be rapidly released into the environment, and then release it slowly over a period of time.
HK: What can municipalities do to be proactive about the issue?
RR: It all starts with research, and we're seeing more of it all the time. When you talk to a municipality, you might want to ask the question, 'What are you doing to study your storm water?'
Municipalities need to fund storm water studies to understand exactly what needs to be done, and where it needs to be done, and what's the most cost-effective solution for them.
It all starts with research. From there, it's going to tell them where they need to spend their money and what they need to do, whether it's retention or permeable pavement.
HK: What should you look for in a watertight system?
RR: I would say resiliency. Resiliency is the word that's being used now by municipalities when they talk about their systems in areas that have the potential for flooding or quick thaws, with a lot of storm water runoff at any given point in time. Cities want to think of their infrastructure, including their storm water infrastructure, as resilient and able to survive certain kinds of events.
HK: What kind of advice would you give your customers about storm drainage issues?
RR: Well, if they're not already seeing it, they need to be prepared for it. Typically, in the past, drainage culverts and storm culverts were not gasketed in many markets — or maybe they were gasketed only with butyl sealant, which, quite frankly, is an inferior product to a proper rubber gasket.
Municipalities are dealing with real problems in how they control their storm water. My advice to customers would be: embrace these questions and these requirements, because ultimately, you’ll really be able to offer better solutions and more assistance to your customers.