July 29, 2014

Elyria
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Officials combat flooding in Cuyahoga Valley park

AKRON — Storm-water runoff has regularly flooded streams and has sometimes washed away roads, bridges and trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and park officials are worried that a lack of storm-water management in surrounding communities will only make the problem worse.

Heavy rains have hit the park and surrounding communities three times in the past five years, causing an estimated $6 million in damage in the park, park Superintendent John Debo said.

“Flooding, flooding, flooding” is the biggest problem facing the park, he said.

Paved surfaces from suburban and commercial development don’t let rainwater soak into the ground. Instead, the water runs off in increasing volumes and at increasing speeds into the 33,000-acre parks’ 29 small streams.

The water sweeps quickly through the park, which lies between Cleveland and Akron, causing erosion, reducing water quality and clogging channels and culverts with sediment, which exacerbates the flooding.

In response, park officials are trying to persuade communities in Summit, Cuyahoga, Medina and Portage counties to improve their storm-water management by adding conservation zoning to their building codes, developing village and city rules about how far houses can be from streams and looking into using wetlands to control runoff.

“We’re not out to stop development,” said park ecologist Kevin Skerl. “We are appealing to communities’ sense of shared responsibility.”

Storm-water rules limit runoff from new developments, but not existing development, leaving many communities without guidelines for storm-water containment, Debo said.

The edges of the park have changed dramatically in the past 50 years, Skerl said. In 1959, 39 percent of the land that is now within or immediately bordering the park was developed, and 26 percent was farmed. In 2000, 64 percent was developed, and only 2 percent was farmed.

A park study of 14 nearby communities found that the population of those communities grew by 10,000 people between 1990 and 2000. Between 2000 and 2003, the 14 communities averaged 41 new houses a year.

The former national recreation area was designated a national park in 2000.

Education and cooperation by park officials are starting to pay off. Nineteen of 32 communities closest to the park have adopted setback ordinances to limit development along streams, for example.

But park officials are concerned about what could happen to the 11-mile-long Brandywine Creek in northern Summit County, where about a dozen development proposals in three communities would do major harm to the stream and nearby wetlands, Skerl said.