Great Lakes Echo –  June 17, 2010
People ask me all the time about CSO’s / SSO’s (Combined  Sewer Overflow / Sanitary Sewer Outfalls).  Did the city plan poorly for our sewers? Why would 1/12th of an inch of rain cause all of our toilets and sinks water and stormsewers mix and discharge directly into the rivers, if the city/county were not to blame?  The answer is not that complicated like many others these days.  However, solutions are very expensive.
When Fort Wayne infrastructure was built around 1912 for our sanitary sewers (toilets) and stormsewers (the grates on the streets) they were two separate systems that were connected, toward the top, by a single pipe.  The sanitary sewers have a constant flow, the storm sewers surge with rain.  Since they are connected at the top with a smaller pipe, the mix of both pipes are released from the “outfall points.”  This pipe is a fail-safe type system, so when large rain events or flooding occurred, it would discharge into the waterways instead of coming up in your house.  This is not a bad idea, considering I am a homeowner as well.  SO ~ when built all those many years ago Fort Wayne, Indiana’s population was 52,057 in 1900 and 76,320 in 1912.  If you now count how many heads are flushing their toilets, that go to the same system that was built 100 years ago with some additions, the sewers are not able to process all that.  If you count the communities surrounding Fort Wayne that uses our “settling ponds” and infrastructure in 2010 …we are approaching 350,000 with the census numbers coming out soon.   Truly, the leaders of our city 100 years ago could not realize that the population would be so large and simply failed to plan accordingly.
Currently their are 42 CSO (Combined Sewer Overflows) or SSO (Sanitary Sewer Outfalls) discharge points locally, with 38 of those with permits allowing over 1 million gallons of water per day. These CSO’s are the combined “sanitary” (toilet water) and storm-sewer water are discharged out from these points with as little as a one-twelfth inch of rainfall or snowmelt.  In 2006 Save Maumee recorded 137 of these discharges.  Currently, the City of Fort Wayne reports on average 71 discharges per year and the Federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) allows 4 discharges per year.  Remember, what you flush down your toilet truly ends up in local streams. Be conscientious.
Pavement is one more component.  So in 1912 there were definitely not as many roads, sidewalks, driveways or roof tops.   Precipitation had a chance to “soak-in” rather than “run-off”.  The natural process of filtration through grasses (NOT the mowed kind) and trees allowed the water to release slowly and filter through ground water.  Now, when it rains the water is shed by running over pavement, picking up contaminants and loose soil.  It rinses off the oil, antifreeze, salt, lawn chemicals etc. and is quickly discharged into storm-sewers and is shed as fast as possible into nearby rivers and tributaries.  New stats from this Great Lakes Echo article discusses too much pavement stresses nearby streams.  Too much pavement and fast drainage and not enough productive green space may be topics of preponderance for the next 100 years.