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Don’t go with the flow: Sterling residents asked to ease up on water use

City’s drainage system needs to time to catch up

STERLING – Keep the showers short, let the laundry pile up a little bit – and stop pumping that water into the city’s stormwater system.

Sterling officials are asking residents to ease up on the water usage after some wild winter weather put a strain on the city’s drainage systems.

Several inches of snow last week, a February rain, and rapid snow melt due to unseasonably high temperatures created the perfect storm of problems Tuesday.

The flow to the wastewater treatment plant went from 1.1 million gallons Friday to more than 16 million gallons Tuesday, City Manager Scott Shumard said in a news release.

As a result, residents are asked to hold off on using washing machines and dishwashers, and avoid baths and prolonged showers until the flow becomes more manageable.

Public Works staff also are keeping on eye on the rising Elkhorn Creek, which could put the plant off Lynn Boulevard at risk – but for now the city won’t have to sandbag, according to Superintendent of Public Works Brad Schrader.

Sanitary sewer pipes also are running full, causing basement backups in parts of Sterling.

"Also, we have people pumping sump pumps into the sanitary sewer, and they're not supposed to do that," Schrader said. "There is a program in place to help them switch over to discharge that water outside their house."

Schrader said he thought the call to decrease water use might last until the end of this week, as water levels go down elsewhere. Residents can call Public Works at 815-632-6657 or search for the City of Sterling on Facebook for updates.

Alex Gibbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad-Cities, said Whiteside County received an average of 2 inches of precipitation from Feb. 13 to 20. Rainfall for Tuesday morning was estimated at another 1 to 1.5 inches.

The same area received an average of 9 to 12 inches of precipitation from Feb. 8 to 10. The Rock River is expected to crest by noon Thursday at about 13 feet near Como. Flood stage there is 12.5 feet.

Gibbs said ice on the river is making the forecast difficult.

"I'm confident in saying there's still frozen ground within 13 inches of the topsoil. It fills up above that layer, (water) runs off, and can't go any deeper," he said.

For the Rock in Dixon, the crest is expected to be about noon Wednesday at 16.4 feet. Flood stage is 16 feet, Gibbs said.

For Lee County, Gibbs said an average 1.5 to 2.5 inches of precipitation fell from Feb. 13 to 20, and another 1 to 2 inches from 7 a.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday. From Feb. 8 to 10, the same area received an average of 8 to 11 inches of precipitation.

Sump pump/downspout grant program

Sterling officials say extra water from the illegal sump pump hook-ups by residents and businesses contributes greatly to flooding and sewer backup, especially in the downtown area. Eight sump pumps operating at full capacity can inundate a sanitary sewer that is capable of servicing 200 homes in 24 hours. Six houses with downspouts that feed directly into the system can fill that same sanitary sewer during the same time frame.

That's why they instituted a grant program last year that helps eligible residents fix illegal connections of sump pumps and roof downspouts to the city's sanitary sewer system.

The city will reimburse half of up to $400 for the cost of disconnecting the sump pumps or rerouting the roof drainage. Owner-occupied homes that meet income guidelines are eligible for up to 75 percent reimbursement.

Building and Zoning Superintendent Amanda Schmidt said previously that plumbers she’s checked with estimate the cost runs anywhere from $250 to $600 to fix the problem.

The city sends out inspectors before and after the work is done, she said.

The grant must be approved by a city official, and any necessary permits must be obtained before the work is started. Only licensed plumbers can be used for the jobs; copies of estimates must be submitted.

Click here for applications for the program or pick one up at City Hall, 212 Third Ave. Call 815-632-6621 for more information

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