City Considers Costly Repair for Storm Water Infrastructure

Photo: The city is considering a plan to repair storm water infrastructure, which includes storm drains such as this one.
Adam Romero/Photo
The city is considering a plan to repair storm water infrastructure, which includes storm drains such as this one.

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An estimated $50 million is needed to replace and repair the city of Berkeley's storm infrastructure, though the Clean Stormwater Fund's inability to meet this demand with the $1.9 million generated annually through property taxes is furthering the decay of the storm pipes - some of which are 80 years old.

The city's Community Environmental Advisory Commission will evaluate the problem of the inadequate storm water infrastructure - which is complicated by the fact that up to 80 percent of the infrastructure is on private property - according to the report in the Thursday meeting's agenda, meaning property owners themselves would need to initiate expensive repairs in order to entirely prevent flooding in the city.

Commission member Juan Banales said the city needs the $50 million to replace the pipes or repair them, possibly by inserting a membrane inside the pipes that would reduce long-term costs associated with completely destroying the existing infrastructure. He said he will propose this new technology Thursday.

Banales added that the city should move culverts underground to avoid having to clean out clogged drains, which the Clean Stormwater Fund is currently used for.

Councilmember Linda Maio said that when floods coincide with high tide, water flows directly from the pipes into the San Francisco Bay and collides with a wall of tide water. This blocks up the pipes - an issue she said has resulted in "people in rowboats on 2nd Street."

Maio and commission member Richard Harris said the commission is also considering making surfaces more permeable, allowing for better water absorption, which would release the burden on the pipes. This approach would be used in combination with improvements to other "hard path" infrastructures like culverts and drains, Harris said.

Maio said she and the city's Watershed Resources Specialist Josh Bradt are looking into designating a street in the Downtown area to install permeable paving as a test project. She added that property owners should consider planting permeable ground and using rain barrels in their yards.

Commission chair Greg Leventis said the purpose of Thursday's discussion will be to more thoroughly evaluate the problem and possible solutions.

"It is more of an initial discussion of what we want to do with it going forward," he said. "I don't know as much as I want to."

Banales added that the issue has not been addressed since the Berkeley City Council voted to create the Clean Stormwater Fund in 1991 because council members may be intimidated by the potential scale of the project and the money needed to execute it.

"Fifty million will only go up if we do not do something now," he said. "Since 1991, prices to do procedures have gone up and backlog continues to increase. The city council should look at increasing the tax every couple of years to reflect changes to upkeep and backlog."

Yet notification and voting regulations make it hard to increase the tax, according to the report in the meeting's agenda.

Still, Maio said she agrees that the problem is large and urgent.

"Our look at the storm drains is much bigger than drains. We have to look at the whole watershed," she said. "Soon we will have to go back to the voters and say we have to improve our storm drain pipes."


Contact Samantha Strimling at [email protected]

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