The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 9, 2014

High-tech help: Geistown tackles stormwater runoff problems

Patrick Buchnowski

JOHNSTOWN — How can computer mapping technology help Geistown Borough to solve its trouble with stormwater runoff?

That’s the question being answered as borough officials chart catch basins with the help of Cambria County Geographical Information Systems and Pitt-Johnstown’s geography department.   

 The plan is to map all catch basins and pipes with the goal of making needed repairs and upgrades.

“We don’t know what we have as far as catch basins and pipes,” said Borough Council President Joseph Matthew Sernell.

“A lot of the old catch basins are brick,” Sernell said. “Brick tends to collapse over time. They need to be replaced with concrete.”

The water flows into catch basins, downhill into creeks and eventually into the Stonycreek River.

Too much water sometimes means flooded yards and basements.

Officials are charting trouble spots using GIS and global positioning system maps for each of the 11 sectors of Geistown, which has 12 miles of roads and 77 streets.

“We’re identifying each inlet (catch basin), getting its coordinates, size of the lines and discharge points, then move on to another sector,” said Michael Grandinetti, Geistown public works director.

To date about 130 have been found. There are about 20 that remain.

Longtime borough employee Bob Zimmerman is lending his 52 years of experience to the project.

“Bob will help us find some of the entry points that we’re not aware of,” Grandinetti said. “They’re really not inlets but open ditches that drain into inlets.”

UPJ student intern Carson Seaman also is collecting data.

“Eventually, we’ll collect the (catch basins’) characteristics, how old and what they’re made of,” said Seaman, while poking his finger at the keys of a hand-held computer.    

Information gathered will be shared with Highland Sewer and Water in Richland Township, which maintains the water and sewer lines, and with the Geistown Fire Department.

“The GIS program is terrific,” said William Kory, chairman of the geography department at Pitt-Johnstown. “That’s a record every municipality should have.”

Sernell is hoping the ambitious mapping project will be completed by year’s end.

Then the borough will begin applying for grant money to make repairs, he said.

Steve Kocsis, county GIS director, said the project is never final.

“You’re always adding to it,” he said. “You’re continually keeping maintenance records.”

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on BuchnowskiTD.