Why that storm sewer?

Some of you who have read the ‘Permit – open plan review’ post, or who have noted the storm sewer in the ‘New sewer layout’ post, who know the 168 Elm pilot project and our attitude towards stormwater management may wonder why we spend money on a new storm sewer connection.

Disconnecting roof downspouts in Chicago is a tricky subject. The Chicago Green Homes Program encourages disconnecting downspouts from the sewer system. The Department of Water Management and Department of Environment are working hard on incentivizing disconnections. There is even a building code section that addresses this issue (Chapter 18-29-1101.2):

“1. Nothing in this provision shall prohibit the temporary or permanent disconnection of the roof downspout of a building from the sewer or combined sewer so long as the disconnection does not result in the drainage of water beyond the property lines of the lot on which the building is located.

2. Roofs of single-family (Class A-1) and multiple-family (Class A-2) buildings may be provided with external downspouts discharging onto a paved or landscaped area, provided the water thus discharged can be drained directly to an area drain, catch basin or street gutter connected to a public sewer, without spilling over onto adjacent property creating a public hazard or nuisance.”

That said, the plumbing inspector in the Department of Building won’t have any of it. When I raised the issue during the open plan review, I was told in no uncertain terms that disconnecting the downspouts is not an option. I would not receive project approval unless I showed a downspout to sewer connection on the plans.

I have to admit that I did not show up with engineering drawings and calculations that would have shown how I will manage the roof runoff on the property without flooding my neighbors. I think I would not have signed off either without a complete and sound design.

But when I asked for my options, like I did with the 1 inch water service, I was given none, despite the above stated code section, and despite existing precedence in Chicago.

So – do I want to fight over the disconnection, or would I rather keep a storm sewer connection?

I’d rather keep the connection to get the city’s approval and to keep going with the project. Once we are done, we may disconnect after all, if the sustainable stormwater treatment methods in the yard can handle all the runoff.

The primary rationale to deny downspout disconnections is to assure the public’s health, safety and welfare. How would a connection to the storm sewer help with that public health, safety and welfare, considering that the combined sewer system in Chicago is readily overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it just add to the flooding? Wouldn’t it be safer to siphon some of that water off and manage it outside the sewer system?

I have difficulties following the rationales and reasoning of the inspector.

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

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