Monday, November 20th, 2017

Trench water warfare


In a guest op-ed in yesterday’s Waukesha Freeman, Robert Latta comes up with a solution to the city of Waukesha’s future water needs. It’s a solution that only an engineer could love, and I say that with nothing but affection for engineers. Latta wants us all to start digging trenches.

I checked the going rate cost to install percolation trenches for our homes. Basically, the average home and driveway collecting all the rain that falls will provide for more than the domestic needs for two persons. Costs are based on a 50-foot-by-2-foot-by-4-foot-deep trench filled with drain rock, lined with geofilter fabric, topped off so the trench is innocuous.

From National Construction Estimator 2010 edition costs: Cost per person is $1,250.

These are the going rates for a single job done at a time, union wage and prevailing rates. For multiple neighbors cooperating together, this cost can easily be halved. For the most savvy people, they can likely get theirs done for a quarter of this cost. Nonetheless, the going rate to have the project done at union prevailing wages and equipment charges comes to the figure above.

Compare this to Waukesha-Milwaukee water hookup coming to an estimated $2,619 per person; you see this alternative costs less than half of what we are told is the cheapest, most viable alternative.

With trenches, there’s a one-time cost. Then current water rates don’t change. In fact, with time, those costs come down since the perc trenches raise the water levels in the aquifers and replenish them, making the cost for cleaning and pumping each year lower and lower.

Considering that some people can accomplish this task for less than half the quoted rate, the actual cost would be far less than one-fourth the Milwaukee water option. Not to mention, lower rates thereafter for the future.

I walked through the neighborhood and saw possibilities for adjoining neighbor properties. Along lot lines, a common trench with builtup, landscaped sides can be done. It would be attractive. The built-up sides would increase the value of property landscaping and save the cost of trucking spoil from the site, and provide an additional overflow capacity exceeding a 2-inch-in-eight-hour storm, the designed trench capacity.

Let’s look at the proposed trench solution. I don’t know if Latta has noticed, but much of the city of Waukesha is already, well, occupied. By people.They would be very upset to learn they have to give up part of their city lots to a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme.

Many of the lot lines where Latta would like to dig the trenches are already occupied by things called “fences” of varying strength, durability, material and size. (These fences are often used to contain four-legged mammals known as “dogs” that have an unfortunate tendency to contribute interesting byproducts to the water running off homeowners’ yards.) I suspect many of Latta’s neighbors would be unhappy if their fences were removed, not to mention the expense.

Now comes the real engineering challenge. Even if you can get the single-family residences to dig swales on their city lots, what will the city do about apartments and condominiums? Perhaps we could dig up the streets and build giant canals?

Forget closing Main Street for Friday Night Live. We could permanently close it, dig it up, and have a Venetian-style canal running through the city. (At this point the Lovely Doreen from Waukesha asked, “He does know that Venice is sinking, right?) Water for everyone, and a tourist attraction! We would be well on our way to making Waukesha the #1 Art City in America!

I’m told our friends at WEAL once proposed digging up the curb and gutter to replace them with swales.  Let me tap my inner-Lorax and speak for the trees that would be destroyed in the process – hell no. Besides, has anyone from WEAL (and I realize they hide out in the town of Waukesha) actually been on the city’s streets? They’re too narrow as it is in most neighborhoods.

Of course, SEWRPC and the city of Waukesha already looked at the idea of digging water retention trenches and concluded that the water saved would be inadequate for the city. However, you could just tack on the cost of the water retention trenches to the multi-source “solution” pushed by the mayor and his smart people that costs more than Lake Michigan water and does not provide a long-term safe and reliable source of water. When the trenches are dug, we could all keep the mosquitos as pets.

For the record, I still like my solution of running a giant garden hose to Owen Robinson’s house and hooking up to his water. However, the city’s Common Council has wisely decided to pursue Lake Michigan water instead.

Keep the loopy ideas coming people. I’m told the mayor would like to see sailboats on the quarries someday. You folks are going to have to work harder to beat the craziness at city hall.

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