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Infrastructure prep for heavy rain and floods: On the Road with Randy Reimer

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Underground infrastructure needs to work well 24/7, rain or shine — but these days, we’re seeing a lot more rain than shine.



The U.S. has just experienced its wettest 12 months in recorded history. Heavy rainfall and flooding have inundated many communities, breaking records and straining infrastructure.



And it’s not just heavier rain — it’s more frequent, with data showing steady escalation over the decades. Add this to hurricane-related storm surges, snow and ice melt, dam failures, and river ice jams, and the result is serious flooding.



As rainfall and flooding get worse, our infrastructure suffers — but municipalities can prepare and minimize the impact.



We asked Randy Reimer, Director of Sales at Hamilton Kent, about the relationship between record-breaking rainfall and current infrastructure issues.



Hamilton Kent: What toll does heavy rain and flooding take on underground infrastructure?



Randy Reimer: If storm systems aren’t watertight, bedding material will erode and systems won't operate normally. Water treatment plants can be overwhelmed, resulting in discharges that contaminate our waterways and create environmental hazards.



HK: What happens when water levels exceed capacity?



RR: The water has to go somewhere, and the impact of uncontrolled water is widespread.

There's no question about it: homes can be damaged through backups, structures can experience erosion, and even personal safety can be threatened.



HK: What about the economic impacts?



RR: The economic impact is massive when you're dealing with the kind of weather we've had.

When I say weather, I mean heavy snows in late spring that quickly melt and turn to runoff. It seems to rain every second or third day. And these rains are heavy — six or seven inches in an hour — we’re talking about 50-year events.

This year, it’s interfering with the whole infrastructure business. Pipe manufacturers can't ship product because they can't get trucks around, and contractors can’t install product because of high groundwater levels and saturated soil. It's impossible to install water conveyance pipe when you dig a trench and it fills with water — it requires expensive dewatering and presents safety hazards in the form of trench collapses. So, contractors prefer to wait.



HK: How do municipalities prepare for heavy rain and floods?



RR: When preparing for heavy rains and potential flooding, cities should ensure their stormwater system is functioning properly. They must regularly clear leaves and debris from storm grates, clean storm culverts and replace deficient culverts to promote better flow.

Municipalities with combined systems have different issues. When stormwater enters a combined system, it usually results in an overflow and potential sewer backups. Those are cases for long-term planning and investment. And we are seeing many cities and municipalities that are already taking steps for better prevention and treatment.

With good preparation, municipal operators of watersheds or river systems with dams can handle a certain amount of heavy precipitation. Some states have areas where the Army Corps of Engineers controls flooding by directing excess water to less critical areas.



HK: What does the term “resiliency” mean in underground infrastructure?



RR: For a system to last a hundred years, it has to be resilient.

Resiliency speaks to being able to handle all sorts of potential problems — fires, floods, earthquakes or tornadoes. With little planning at the design level, these natural events will unquestionably destroy infrastructure.



HK: What does a resilient product look like?



RR: In many markets, uncured rubber — sometimes called a butyl sealant or a mastic — is used as joint material, and storm-pipe-to-structure connections are often grouted rather than gasketed. Neither of those are ideal, and they are certainly not resilient.

Gasketed solutions are much more appropriate. Specifying a resilient rubber connector or gasket would go a long way to strengthening those connections and greatly improving the likelihood of an underground system lasting 100 years and beyond.



HK: Why should municipalities improve underground infrastructure for heavy weather events?



RR: Properly installed underground infrastructure won't solve the problem of heavy rain or flooding, but it will mitigate the effects. Most importantly, it helps municipal systems survive such events and go on to function normally once the water recedes.

As advocates for high-quality, resilient infrastructure, we support the modernization of underground water conveyance systems. It's not just good business for our customers and for us —but it's good business for anyone who relies on a high functioning transportation system and safe, clean water to drink.

At Hamilton Kent, we work with our peers and industry partners to increase the knowledge base and develop new, better-performing products. Solutions exist — it’s time to put them into practice.