Frustrated Residents Call for Action on Stormwater Problems
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
October 18, 2011
Yesterday evening’s town hall on stormwater issues revealed many problems far removed from Falls Church’s two flood plains.
The meeting, which drew a large crowd at the Community Center, had been called primarily due to a tropical storm on September 8 that left many flood plain houses with flooded basements. However, most of the homeowners who vented their frustrations to City officials came from neighborhoods distant from Tripps and Four Mile Runs and recounted problems that in some cases have persisted for decades.
Many residents reported both storm and sewer water flooding their homes and standing water on or near their properties.
Joan Nieman of Hillwood Avenue said she had 18″ of black sewer water in her basement and can still smell it
“We are in jeopardy,” she said. “Stonewalling brought us here. We’ve had this problem for years. I want it fixed. I want it fixed now.”
Flooding problems are not confined to homes. Ed Bouchard, who has a business on Douglas Avenue, said he has experienced flooding for the last six or seven years. “It comes over the street, over the curb, under our door,” Bouchard said. “Every time there’s significant rain our office floods. I’d like to know what the City plans to do.” He said that the problems began after the Whittier tract was completed along Hillwood Avenue.
Nieman’s home and Bouchard’s business are not on a flood plain. Susan Douglas’ home on Cameron Road is.
“They say this is ‘The Little City’ that could. I’d like to see it proved,” she said. She has learned that her $20,000 in losses are not covered by the flood insurance that she was obliged to purchase because the City redesignated the house as being on a flood plain in 2004.
“Somebody asked me if I have a lawyer,” said Douglas. “I think I have a lot of company here that would be interested in having someone take a look at what’s going on in Falls Church.”
Revenue commissioner Tom Clinton, another Hillwood resident, said had he had two feet of water in his basement on September 8 and that he has experienced frequent flooding since the completion of a City project several years ago.
“Their problem became our problem,” he said. “I’ve brought it to the City’s attention and nothing’s been done. This is not the city I grew up in. I consider it a quality of life issue. If it costs more taxes I’m willing to pay some, let’s get this thing solved,” Clinton said to applause.
In response to these and many other complaints, City Public Works Director Bill Hicks and City Manager Wyatt Shields said that they were aware of many of the problems but that there were no quick answers.
Concerning sewer backups, Shields said that prior to the late 70s houses could have stormwater drains that connected to the sanitary sewer. Anywhere from 40 to 60% of the City’s homes have storm drains connecting to the sewer system, according to City utility engineer Rodney Collins.
“It’s about levels of service,” said Shields, regarding the overall problem. “September 8 exceeded our standards. In some respects it’s the wrong context in which to talk about the stormwater management issues. The good news is we have an effort well under way to take a comprehensive look a look at our stormwater systems. That’s not just starting, it’s in the homestretch.”
At the end of the meeting Mayor Nader Baroukh thanked the citizens for their comments and cited four topics for future discussion.
1) The pros and cons of an ordinance that would require severing the connections between the stormwater system and the sewers. This would include a review of the possible legal constraints against such action.
2) Requiring that developers pay a pro-rata share for stormwater management. The City would research how other jurisdictions have approached the issue.
3) Identifying where the major problems are, in addition to those referenced in the meeting, and re-evaluating the City’s standards for stormwater system capacity.
4) How implementing major stormwater improvements would impact the budget and the Capital improvements Program, including the possibility of a holding a referendum.
Prior to the discussion Hicks briefed the attendees on the recent flooding and the City’s ongoing efforts to control stormwater. He said that the frequently used phrase ”100 year event” to describe September 8 does not mean that such a severe flood will occur only once in a century, rather that there is a 1% chance of it happening every year.
The City’s system is designed to cope with an event that would have a 10% chance of happening in a given year. Falls Church has had more than its share of major storms since 2000, having experienced four severe events during the past decade.
Hicks said that the City has received a $1.7 million grant for stream improvements on the Pearson and Coe Branches of Tripps Run and plans to spend $8 million on implementing 21 projects in its watershed management plan over the next eight years. He noted that Falls Church also works constantly to maintain the existing system, but added that homeowners should maintain proper drainage systems on their property.
Hicks’ Powerpoint presentation is available on the City’s Stormwater and Floodplain Management page.
A video of the nearly two hour meeting is available here under “City Webcasts.”
Council Work Sessions - After the town hall the City Council held two work sessions, one public, one closed.
During the open session the members first discussed a resolution to adopt the Northern Virginia Regional Water Supply Plan, the primary purpose of which is ensure adequate and safe drinking water. The city manager advised the Council that the City’s supply is in good shape, due to improvements in plumbing fixtures that have resulted in less water usage. The city manager said that the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies Falls Church’s water, had its peak day in the 1970s.
City CFO Richard La Condré then briefed the Council on the first quarter financial report for FY 2012. While some revenues are exceeding estimates, La Condré said it is too early to identify any trend. Personal property taxes are $325,000 higher than budgeted, due in part to a higher rate. Sales taxes are $12,000 ahead of last year’s collections. Expenditures show an underspending for the first quarter. The CFO estimated that the City has $500,000 in additional revenue, as of Monday.
The closed session concerned the Child Development Center question and issues relating to the City’s water system.
By George Bromley
October 18, 2011