My Ohio: Concrete allows rain to soak through, sidesteps need for sewers to take away water

Cleveland sewer headquarters tries new pavement

CLEVELAND - There are more than 1,400 miles of sewer lines criss-crossing in the world below the surface of
Cleveland. The rain that falls finds its way to street catch basins, which gulp in the water bound for sewer lines that take the rain to Lake Erie.

However, there could be a cost savings if the concrete pavement actually were able to soak up the rainwater instantly, allowing it to soak into the soil below. That prospect excites Rachid Zoghaib, commissioner of  Cleveland Water Pollution Control, the service that maintains Cleveland's sewer lines.

As part of an experiment, Zoghaib's group has laid a  patch of pervious concrete half the size of a football field. Resembling a cake of Rice Krispies cereal, this concrete is porous enough to allow water to flow through. There is no need for sewer lines to take away the rainwater that falls on this part of the Water Pollution Control's parking lot. The water vanishes as soon as it hits the pervious concrete.

"The rainwater that usually goes through the sewer system now is being soaked underground," said a beaming Zoghaib as he showed a video of a heavy rainfall.

Indeed, the water disappeared while the water on the regular concrete remained on the surface, flowing leisurely into a nearby drain.

On days when the rainfalls are heavy, streets can become flooded because of the volume of water hitting the concrete and asphalt surfaces. When the sewers are at capacity, there is no place for the rain to run. So the streets are flooded with rainwater.

Zoghaib could not estimate the cost savings with less use of sewer lines for any community that decided to do that. However, he did cite a housing development in the Minneapolis area.

"They used pervious, or permeable, pavement there for a mile of the subdivision without the use of storm sewers or drains," said Zoghaib.

With a water-spewing hose flowing water onto his patch of concrete and water disappearing as quickly as it was spewed on the pavement, the commissioner of Cleveland's water pollution control would not say pervious concrete would be the future for cities, but he did say he thought there could be more uses of it.

However, officials at Tech Concrete in Cleveland said the cost of pervious concrete runs about 25 percent higher than that of regular concrete.  Also, with its use, they said, there must be a campaign to keep the surface free of dirt, which can clog its crevices and pores, stopping water from flowing through.

Still, Zoghaib thinks the concrete has proven itself enough for him to take his thoughts on the pavement to conferences where city officials from throughout the nation gather to discuss innovations in sewers and in ways with dealing with heavy rainfalls. He expects the subject will bring a flood of interest.

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