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The Macon Telegraph


    January 13, 2003


Local retention ponds the runoff of growth

Telegraph Staff Writer

Where does all that water go?   And, more importantly, is there a potential health hazard involved?   When developers build subdivisions, business complexes and other projects, local governments sometimes require plans for dealing with the resulting water runoff.  Those plans sometimes include some sort of retention or detention pond or ditch.

Local officials are examining ways to improve how they deal with water runoff. And the solution is not an easy one.  "It’s been a situation that there just hasn’t been a real good answer for," said Tommy Stalnaker, Houston County’s public works director. "There are problems now."

Many people have probably seen detention and retention ponds and ditches but didn’t know what they were or how they got there. They were built during a construction project to catch rain runoff and either hold it long-term until it evaporates - retention - or release it more slowly than nature would - detention. They can be huge - two acres or more - or just a tiny ditch in front of a single business or residence. Many are built, and then receive little or no attention for years.

That presents governments and developers with critical questions: Who is responsible for maintaining them? Are they the most effective way of dealing with water runoff? Are they breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry potentially deadly diseases?   The answers: It depends, maybe, don’t know.


    AVOC COMMENT:   The increased building in Oconee, Clarke, Barrow, Walton, Jackson and other Northeast Georgia counties has caused a proliferation of drainage ditches and retention ponds.  For several years, during the development phase, the developer will maintain the areas for aesthetic and marketing purposes.

In time, they tend to become "no man’s property" and will eventually fall to the responsibility of the local goverrnment.    Planning for future responsibility as well as flood and health problems is critical.

The regional concept sounds good. However, the local government will need to be involved.  A private developer cannot use a drainage pond on another’s property without consent.  It will have to be coordinated.  The "owner" of the site could be compensated.

Flood control and retention ponds will become increasingly more of a challenge for communities, private property owners and local governments.

Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc


Macon Telegraph Article Continued.........

Whose responsibility?   Who bears responsibility for maintaining the ponds and ditches? In Houston County, that depends on where you are.   In unincorporated parts of the county and in the city of Centerville, the property owner is responsible, local officials said. The county normally maintains an easement, or small parcel of land that gives access to the facility, so that workers can get to it, County Engineer Robbie Dunbar said.

In Warner Robins, the city retains an easement and maintains holding areas for singular residential and commercial projects. The city also has responsibility for all residential areas, City Engineer Walter Gray said.  In areas where there is more than one type of development, the property owner is responsible.  The city of Perry’s approach also varies.   "It depends on where the water is going," said Perry City Manager Lee Gilmour. The city maintains its own holding area. But in cases where retention and/or detention is necessary, property owners are responsible.

In some parts of the county, ponds and ditches are abandoned. There are fences placed around some, so there is apparently no way to get to them for maintenance.  "It’s an ongoing problem, and it’s a situation in which at some point in time something is going to have to be done," Stalnaker said.

Is there a better way?  "This is not some minor thing," Stalnaker said. "We’ve got these (retention and detention ponds) scattered all over the county."  With growth creating more water runoff, local governments are working to come up with a more effective way of dealing with the problem.   Regional water collection centers seem to be one alternative. Under the regional concept, a large pond would be built before significant construction was under way.

Developer Larry Snellgrove said a water collection center could be located in a low-lying area and collect runoff from a large number of projects.  "I don’t have the answer. That’s just my philosophy," Snellgrove said. "I think we’d be better off in years to come. That’s what I have been an advocate of, but it hasn’t happened."   Under the regional concept, the water could be maintained and treated more easily. And there would be fewer unmaintained eyesores dotting the landscape.  

The city of Warner Robins is awaiting the results of a study concerning how to deal with storm water problems.  Stalnaker said the regional concept might be the best route to take in dealing with runoff.  Gilmour said that because other governments have had problems with detention and retention ponds, the city of Perry is reviewing its policies.

Even if the regional centers are the best solution, there is the problem of paying for them. Officials question if all taxpayers should pay for a problem that only affects some. One solution is to let developers and landowners pay based on how much their property contributed to the problem.

Are the ponds dangerous?   The short answer is yes, they can be dangerous breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus and certain forms of encephalitis. But they are no more dangerous than other bodies of water, such as lakes, creeks and rivers, Stalnaker said.   And while there is no official plan or requirement for treating retention and detention areas to combat mosquitoes, officials say that the areas are treated with larvicide on a case-by-case basis.

Larvicide helps control mosquito infestation.   The problem could be in areas where overgrowth and mosquitoes go unnoticed or untreated.   "I strongly urge people that have storm water to drain to use larvicide," said Dr. Joseph Swartwout, regional director of the state health department, based in Macon.

Though there is no way to tie cases of West Nile or encephalitis to retention or detention areas, mosquito infestation is one more issue that could push officials to find another way of dealing with water runoff.