Mitigating stormwater in the Heights

Stormwater falling on an impervious surface.

Heights residents are hearing a lot about damaging stormwater and solutions to its runoff problems, including rain barrels, rain gardens, and reducing impervious surfaces, which include rooftops, driveways and even decks. 

Rain obviously can’t pass through concrete, cement, or your roof. Driveways, rooftops, patios and other surfaces, if installed correctly, slope away from your home, and guide water into grates on the roadway. Our current system for handling sewage and stormwater was built decades ago. It was not designed for the region’s current population, nor the amount of impervious surfaces. 

Another problem is that Heights communities are built on an escarpment—a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights. This is how the “Heights” cities got their names. Think of it as the dividing line between the Great Lakes Basin and the Allegheny Plateau. Although this shale formation saved the region during the last glacial epoch, it left behind poorly draining soils and clay formations. 

Because there is little use for groundwater, our buildings were designed to route stormwater runoff directly to storm sewers, then into streams, and finally into Lake Erie. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Because of urban sprawl and the immediate rush of water to our streams, we experience flooding.

In other areas of the country, better landscape design and newer systems solve this problem. Milwaukee, for example, has expanded its gray infrastructure (stormwater and sewage systems). This works when an area is still growing, but what about a city, such as Cleveland Heights, that is shrinking? 

That’s where institutions, such as Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, can play a role in finding solutions that work for cities with shrinking populations (and budgets). Vacant lots create green spaces that absorb rainwater, but to make a real difference, wide-scale changes are needed. A 2013 study by Case Western Reserve University found that there are a few local solutions that will help with stormwater management. These include downspout disconnects, permeable pavements, rain gardens and rain barrels.

Other solutions include community gardens, bioremediation, constructed wetland, urban agriculture/commodity farming, riparian setbacks and stream daylighting.

Because creating a new gray infrastructure would be cost prohibitive, hyper-local changes are necessary. Downspout disconnects are haphazard because the water runoff can ruin basements. Permeable pavement installation is expensive. The best solutions for homeowners are installing rain gardens and rain barrels. 

According to the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, about 60 percent of our municipal water supply goes directly to watering our lawns. It is easy to change that and use a rainwater supply, which also reduces runoff. Installing rain barrels, which are available locally (Rain Barrels N' More) or making a DIY rain barrel is a cinch, too. Oatey, a local plumbing manufacturer, makes a unique downspout attachment that diverts water to the rain barrel using a garden hose mount.

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District began billing for stormwater management the second half of 2016, but help is available to both mitigate the effects of rainwater and the fees. Contact the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership for a property assessment. Solutions are available to help community members divert rainwater and save money.

 [A version of this story appears on]

Chris Hanson

Chris Hanson is coordinator of GrowingHeights, holds a B.A. in urban studies, and is pursuing his M.B.A. He serves in the Ohio Army National Guard. 


Read More on Home & Garden
Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 10:33 AM, 09.01.2016