‘Too much, too soon’; rains overwhelm drainage infrastructure

400 N. Main Street, Washington. Thunderstorm across Washington County, Utah, Aug. 18, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

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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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.


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  • Julie A. August 20, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    The city’s drainage system “worked flawlessly,” Shaw said, until it overflowed. Seriously?
    I’d have to disagree with this:“There’s no system that can handle that amount of water,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said. “We have the proper infrastructure…It was too much (rain) too soon.”
    I grew up near Dallas, and torrential rains were a regular occurance. We had storm drains big enough for a child to crawl through. It is possible to build a storm water system that could handle these storms we’ve been getting.
    They’ve built for a 25 year storm? A 1 in 25 chance of getting flooded this year? Thats not acceptable, the city needs to fix this problem before anyone else gets flooded.

  • Julie A. August 20, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    If I lived in Washington, I’d be raising a stink with my city officials.

  • anonymous August 21, 2014 at 5:59 am

    The drainage system here in southern Utah is a joke. Here’s my question. Where is the money going to come from to improve the drainage system? If this money were to come as a result of increased taxes people will be against both the taxes and the unacceptable drainage system. Does the cities have the money to fix the drainage issues right now, I sought it. Does the city have the man power to to fix the drainage issue right now, no. Even if the money was available right now it will take years to get a good drainage system in place.

  • Koolaid August 21, 2014 at 8:59 am

    The flow of water represents the flow of koolaid served to those residents. Drink up and enjoy the koolaid.

  • Mean momma August 21, 2014 at 9:04 am

    You might as well have copy and paste last years article on the flooding in Washington, it’s the same old story, nothing has changed, nothing ever will.

  • Dana August 21, 2014 at 9:08 am

    “The city’s drainage system “worked flawlessly,” Shaw said, until it overflowed.”
    So, what you are saying is that it did not work. Or, maybe you’re saying it worked until it didn’t.

    • Herd August 21, 2014 at 10:54 am

      That’s like saying the toilet worked flawlessly until somebody flushed it, and that’s why it overflowed. Therefore, the city’s drainage system will continue to work flawlessly as long as it doesn’t rain.

  • EL JEFE August 21, 2014 at 9:45 am

    If Shaw cannot decide if the system worked or not……then the City should consider replacing Shaw with someone who could fix the system so it ALWAYS works, 1 in 25 years or 1 in 100 years!! The system HAS to work ALL the time.
    As a Washington City resident, why should I continue to pay taxes to fund something that “might” work at all?? Does the City need another batch of brand new Ford trucks????

    • Herd August 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Why replace anyone or anything that has worked flawlessly until tasked to actually perform flawlessly?

  • ohdee August 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    yeah total BS, they put these little tiny pipes in that can’t handle the normal flow for irrigation, any rain at all and every one is S.O.L . I live on 100 east, my house is below the grade so water just flows straight through the yard. they don’t need curbs they need bigger pipes under the ground, and put pipes with valves so the people who still irrigate can just hook up and open the valve, simple as that. For man hours, i know a load of people that need community service hours.

    • Bender August 21, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Posting while drunk again OHDEE or do you really not grasp the difference between an irrigation system and a drainage system?

      • ohdee August 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm

        drive around in washington you’ll see they are one in the same.

  • Zonkerb August 22, 2014 at 5:15 am

    If I lived in Washington City I would MOVE

  • getting flooded September 3, 2014 at 2:12 am

    … mostly buys ford truck cause he loves fords and then his family members get to buy them at super low deals they see the closed bid numbers. Just ask …
    Ed. ellipses.

  • getting flooded September 3, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Oh and I wonder what … got her Washington city crown Vic for I’m sure it was next to nothing. Family deals arranged by …
    Ed. ellipses.

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