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Bill Scanlon

With apologies to BJ Thomas: “Raindrops keep falling on my head.”

You might remember this song from the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

I remember it every time it rains in Norman. I remember it as floodwaters encroach my yard and threaten to flood my house.

“Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling ...”

“So I did me some talking to the sun and said I didn’t like the way he got things done / Sleeping on the job ...”

This verse is a reminder that we’ve got to “get things done,” and it turns out we are.

While we’re not solving Norman’s stormwater problems writ large, neighborhoods across town are still prone to flooding, and water quality issues remain. (Norman operates under a waiver from the state Department of Environmental Quality.)

We are taking steps to update documents meant to provide minimum criteria to be applied in the platting and permitting of new developments in Norman.

A major piece of this action: two years ago, the Norman City Council mandated that engineering design criteria be reviewed and updated.

Existing criteria were approved by the council in 1996, and only minor modifications have been made since.

“But there’s one thing I know — the blues they sent to meet me / Won’t defeat me, it won’t be long / Till happiness steps up to greet me ...”

The latest word is that new design criteria will be presented to the city council for approval Jan. 9. Between now and then, at least two public forums will scheduled (one in person), along with a council study session.

Good news: that “happiness” thing.

Full disclosure: I’ve been involved in the revision of these criteria as part of a “stakeholders” subcommittee. Reviewing and updating the design criteria has been a labor-intensive process involving city engineers and planners, developers, contractors, lawyers, etc.

Stakeholders met Sept. 28 to review the draft report. With appendices, that draft ran 292 pages. The final report likely will hit the 300-page mark.

As you might guess, the report is full of technical definitions and requirements (general standards, water lines, sanitary sewers, streets; stormwater, stormwater quality, sustainable stormwater development).

The criteria contains a myriad of specifics regarding drainage slopes, storm drains, manholes, connections, etc. There are pages and pages of formulae that describe and define allowable actions.

As a resident who has faced residential flooding, my focus has been on the stormwater sections of the document — two in particular.

Section 5000: No surprise that rainfall affects flooding. When planning a new development, the developer must adhere to the engineering design criteria in platting the layout.

Among other things, the developer must account for water flow: what’s the consequence of water flow on the plat and on adjoining parcels of land. The amount of rainfall matters, but so does intensity.

There are models that describe various scenarios — models that characterize precipitation: NOAA Atlas 14, Volume 8 last updated in 2013, and due for review and updating no later than 2023; and topographical models that describe literally “the lay of the land.”

Look at the date of the last approved design criteria — 1996 — and the date of the most recent precipitation model — 2013. Our understanding of weather, and tools to analyze precipitation have improved since 1996.

Use of “state of the science” tools is imperative in the permit process. If updated criteria could have been applied to developments approved under 1996 criteria, some neighborhood flooding might have been avoided.

While that can’t happen, updated criteria can help mitigate some flooding issues in the future.

Section 7000: Under the heading of “Sustainable stormwater development,” there are lists of stormwater control measures that contribute to Norman’s stewardship of the land and the enhancement of water quality.

Topics such as “rainwater harvesting, rain gardens, green roofs, biofiltration ponds” are discussed in detail.

Developers are encouraged to adopt some of these ideas whenever appropriate. Good ideas, but what’s missing are incentives for these developers to adopt these practices.

The design criteria document is silent regarding incentives but does provide a starting point for consideration by city government.

“I’m never going to stop the rain by complaining ...”

Adoption of updated engineering design criteria is important — with attendant (future) definition of incentives for developers.

To that point, at least one developer in town is already platting developments with an eye on beauty and stormwater sustainable development. That approach has enhanced to popularity of these areas, thereby enhancing sales.

With incentives, this practice of sustainable stormwater development will gain in popularity.

If approval of these criteria is helpful going forward, there remains the task of solving existing problems regarding flooding and water quality.

I’ll be an optimist. I’m aware of specific initiatives in the process to meet these challenges. These might be the subject of a future column.

“I’m never going to stop the rain by complaining / Because I’m free / Nothing’s worrying me.”

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