MU class pitches in on flooding problem
HUNTINGTON -- An engineering class at Marshall University is using cutting-edge technology to seek solutions for one of Huntington's age-old problems.
For the past semester, nine students in assistant professor Isaac Wait's undergraduate hydrologic engineering course have undertaken a research and analysis project to develop a computer model of the stormwater drainage system in the Chase Street area of Huntington's West End. Like many parts of the city, it has been prone to street flooding for several years.
"The students went out in the field, and the residents told them there have been times when the street flooded so much that they've had to travel by boat instead of car," Wait said. "The students know the system is failing, but the challenge for them is identifying what will or will not mitigate the problem."
The reasons behind Huntington's storm water woes are two-fold, city officials say. First, a large portion of Huntington's sewer system, much of which is a century old, consists of lines that carry both storm water and sewage. The combined lines often overflow during heavy rain, which prevents the city's wastewater treatment plant from treating the water. Instead, millions of gallons of untreated water flow into streams, rivers, basements and streets.
Secondly, decades of development in the city's watershed has steadily increased the rate at which storm water runoff and pollutants enter the city's sewer system.
Replacing the entire sewer system is an unrealistic option that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so the city has been tasked with identifying "best management practices" to guide it in its fight against storm water and related pollution dilemmas. The city has explored disconnecting residential down spouts from the combined sewer system and rerouting them into yards. The idea is to delay the surge of stormwater that inundates the sewer system and decrease the chances of overflows.
Thus far, the city has identified areas such as Arlington Boulevard, Edison Drive, Roby Road and Chase Street, among others, which could benefit from down spout disconnection. How much is an unknown, but that's where the hydrologic engineering class comes into the picture.
The city of Huntington's Public Works Department and Sanitary Board provided the class with maps of the sewer line network under Chase Street and correlating data.
The class broke into two teams, each of which used the information to develop computer models to show which pipes in the drainage network may be undersized and to analyze the possible effects that down spout disconnection could have. Each team discussed their findings in class this week.
Assembling the computer models wasn't easy because the data provided by the city was incomplete. Students had to fill in the gaps by surveying the area and talking to residents.
"That's real-life experience we wouldn't be getting with a hypothetical scenario," said Jim Fields, a senior from Ashland. "It's bringing a problem-solving aspect to our education that everyone deals with in their professions."
The students' work will live beyond the classroom, Wait said. City officials will use the data to guide them in determining whether down spout disconnection will reduce flooding on Chase Street or whether alternative measures are needed.
Both teams concluded in their final reports that doing so would have little impact on flood reduction. One team found that 58 of the 84 drainage conduits in the area flood during a two-year rain event. Disconnecting 75 percent of the roof drains in the area would only alleviate flooding in two of the conduits, they said. Another team recommended building an underground storage tank underneath the Vinson Middle School football field to hold sewage during a storm.
Wait and Kit Anderson, the city's assistant public works director and interim director of the Huntington Sanitary Board, both said the class can become a vital evaluation tool for the city in choosing which storm water control projects might work best for a community.
"One of the things I'd love to see more of is public education tied to public service," Anderson said. "Huntington has a whole lot of problems that need solved, and we need a vast array of expertise consulting with us. You see where the interests align and out of that you get something like what Dr. Wait is doing with his class."
Charles Somerville, dean of the College of Science at Marshall, also is committed to incorporating the analysis of the city's green infrastructure projects that aim to reduce storm water overflows into the course work of other classes, Anderson said. That will give the city another set of eyes looking at projects after they are built to determine whether adjustments are needed, Anderson said.
Interacting with residents and city officials brings a personal connection to the class project as well. There's a greater objective than earning a good grade, said Chris Brumfield, a senior from Huntington.
"When you hear people who live on Chase Street talk about how flooding has affected them, it gives you motivation to get to the bottom of the problem and help them out," Brumfield said.
"It also lends credibility to the engineering program and helps substantiate what we are doing," said Michele Casto, a senior from Huntington.
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.