The rain has been inconvenient for everyone but for Penny Saffer and her neighbors it's been more than just a nuisance.
Saffer lives in the 500 block of S. Pitt Street. She returned home from dinner last Thursday night with her daughter to find her welcome mat floating down the street and water at her door.
“It’s terrible,” she said.” My new floors were damaged. I have carpets out being cleaned and don’t know if they can be salvaged or not and the mattress on my sofa bed has probably been ruined. I know they are only things and am grateful that no one was hurt but we need to do something about this.”
The city is well aware of the problem at Pitt and Gibbon streets. The area is known as the Tan Yard Ditch and floods when there is extensive rainfall. Ann Liddle is one of Saffer’s neighbors.
“We’ve had several meetings with the city and I know they are working to resolve the problem but we aren’t exactly sure what they are doing and when it’s going to happen,” she said. “Since Thursday night when we had this most recent flood, I’ve called and left messages but no one has responded.”
Transportation and Environmental Services Director Richard Baier responded in a very personal way. When he learned that the neighbors wanted to talk, he got in his car and drove to Saffer’s home to meet with them.
“This area is a problem,” he said. “It is part of the Combined Sewer Overflow and we have money in the capital budget to overhaul the system.”
HOW LONG WILL that take? About two more years, according to Baier. The design work will be finished by next spring and then the project will be put out for bid. Digging should begin by late next summer and will probably take six to nine months to complete.
“I am not questioning your methods or that this is going to take some time,” L. Liddle told Baier. He is Ann Liddle’s husband. “I just want to be clear about the timing. We understand that the construction is going to be inconvenient and we are willing to put up with that. It can’t be nearly as inconvenient as having your home flooded.”
The problem in this area of town as in Del Ray, is that the sanitary and storm sewers run through the same pipes. Thus, when flooding occurs, it is a combination of storm and sewer run-off.
“It is very important that people understand this and clean thoroughly with some type of bleach or other strong disinfectant,” Baier said. “Even with just storm water, you would want to do that because that water has been running through dark, damp pipes where mold and other bacteria grow.”
Barbara Mangem knew that part of the run-off was from the sewer. “My car was parked in the back because we are required to have off street parking,” she said. “Water has covered the seats and when I open the door it smells like the sewer,” she said. She had not yet gotten an estimate as to how much a repair would cost or even if repair is possible.
THIS FLOOD was caused by not only the high ground water table but also a large amount of rain in a small time. “Thursday night’s event was very unusual,” Baier said. “We had an inch and a half of rain in 70 minutes. That’s the reason you saw all of the flash flood warnings on television. We know that we have to correct the infrastructure but this was an unusual event and the system is just not able to handle it.”
There were also flood-related problems in Del Ray. Mayor-elect William D. Euille experienced them as did Councilman- elect Rob Krupicka. “This time I had very little water in my basement,” Euille said. “But Rob had about five feet of water in his basement. There is money in the capital budget to correct this problem and we are working as quickly as we can.”
THE DEL RAY project will take about three years and will cost about $12 million. The Pitt and Gibbon project will take about two years and will cost $4.25 million. In the meantime, people in Del Ray and Rosemont have been encouraged to install back flow preventers. These are valves that open and close depending on water pressure. As pressure builds in the pipes, the valve closes to force the water away from homes and back toward the street.
“We sent out over 2,000 brochures on this program and have responded to 85 requests for applications,” Baier said. “We have been asked for only one reimbursement.”
The back flow preventers cost between $2,000 and $2,500 on average. The city will reimburse up to $500 of that to people who live in the affected flood areas where the device can do some good. This will not help at Pitt and Gibbon.
“When I was out there, I looked at some easy solutions that might help until we complete the system overhaul,” Baier said. “We can look at different curbing and a few other things. We do understand that this is a problem and we want to work with citizens,” he said.
For more information on the back flow preventer program, call 703- 838-4966.