WASHINGTON CITY – An estimated 2 inches of rain fell on Washington City over 75 minutes Monday. City officials said it was so much water in such a short amount of time that it overwhelmed the city’s existing drainage system, leading to some streets and homes getting flooded.
Main Street and areas on or around Telegraph Street were covered in water and the basements of some homes turned into unwelcome indoor pools, recreating scenes reminiscent of July 2013 that occurred on 200 West, not far from Main Street. In that instance, a similar amount of rain dumped on the city in just 30 minutes.
While natural disasters at any scale bring out community spirit in many, as was seen in Washington on Monday as neighbors helped neighbors in many ways, they also inevitably raise questions of responsibility. Monday’s heavy rain was no exception as people questioned who was to blame, was it the city? What was being done to handle this kind of water in their neighborhood?
Read, see more: Storm hits Washington, homes flooded; STGnews Photo Gallery and Videocast
In the case of the flood that hit Main Street, Mike Shaw, Washington City public works director, said the rain primarily came down and collected in an open, undeveloped area to the northeast. The runoff from the downpour ran toward Buena Vista and then Main Street where it continued eastward through the highway underpass and proceeded to flood the street along the way.
From there the water flooded into yards, patios, outbuildings and, in some cases along Main Street and 400 West, basements of some homes.
The city’s current drainage system is built to handle what Shaw called a “25-year event,” meaning that freak downpours like the one experienced Monday have a one-in-25 chance of happening once in any given year. Washington City has just been unlucky enough to get these storms in back-to-back years.
The city’s drainage system “worked flawlessly,” Shaw said, until it overflowed.
“There’s no system that can handle that amount of water,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said. “We have the proper infrastructure, but a lot of it just got overwhelmed. It was too much (rain) too soon.”
Both Neilson and Shaw said a part of the problem is that there isn’t a sufficient amount of curb-and-gutter along Main Street that could have been able to help keep the water away homes.
“A lot of our problem is no curb-and-gutter,” Shaw said.
City Councilman Kress Staheli said the question of curb-and-gutters needs to be addressed, as it is an issue in the older part of the city. He also said it is a matter perhaps best evaluated by engineers with the expertise to determine if it would really make a difference.
“An engineer’s got to answer that,” Staheli said.
Curb-and-gutter currently exist along parts of Main Street, but only in short strips that dot both sides of the street.
Overall, Staheli said a solution to the problem needs to be found and that the city government and residents should work together to find it, as well as a way to pay for it.
“Those discussions need to be had,” he said.
Whatever course the city and residents may take in the future will likely have a price tag attached, Staheli said, it’s just a matter of getting it once a course of action had been decided.
The city just completed its storm water master plan, Shaw said, and within it are future storm drainage infrastructure projects. It’s just a matter of getting the master plan approved by the City Council and which part they are willing to fund first.
“The hard part is it depends where these storms hit,” he said. The city could improve the area around Main Street, only to have another freak storm occur in a different area. “These rain events are acts of God.”
Besides the master plan, some drainage issues may eventually ease as development continues.
Shaw said the city requires incoming developments to put in storm drainage that helps to reduce potential flooding. He pointed at the developments in the Green Springs area as an example. “We don’t have these flooding events (there),” he said.
The city has been improving its drainage system since last summer’s flooding, and will continue to do so, Neilson said.
“We do not want to see this happen again,” Staheli said, echoing the sentiment.
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