Alexandria, VA

Alexandria’s LaMonica Johnston says that the life of her infant son was put at risk when her home was flooded on July 8.

Johnston just put her son down in his Pack ‘N Play and was laying down on her couch when water rushed into her home, located near the Hooff’s Run Culvert, a large tunnel that has some of the worst stormwater management issues in the city and handles runoff from the Del Ray, Rosemont, Beverly Hills and Northridge neighborhoods.

“When I stood up we had more than three inches of water in our home covering my ankles,” Johnston told City Council on Tuesday. “In less than 10 more minutes there was two feet of water inside the first floor of our home, along with most other homes in the area.”

On Thursday, September 10, flooding was reported throughout the city in the latest of a string of summer weather events that shut down swaths of roadways, and flooded alleyways and homes. Just as with the storms on July 8 and July 23, city sent out an advisory warning residents of “indoor sewer backups, impassable roads, power outages, and other flood-related issues.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the public is demanding a public conversation on the topic, and on Tuesday Council asked for an update on the city’s storm sewer infrastructure.

“This is one of the most basic services we provide as a community,” Wilson said. “We have to step up to that challenge.”

City Manager Mark Jinks reported that the city has taken a “proactive, aggressive approach to flood management and sewer maintenance in its stormwater program,” according to a city memo. “However, with climate change and the evident increase in major intense rain events which have caused major flooding, the City will need to reexamine and accelerate its stormwater planning and project implementation.”

There have been more than 500 requests for service through the City’s 311 system due to extreme rain events this year, according to a city memo.

The City’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan includes $33 million is for a sanitary sewer asset renewal program. As such, the Four Mile Run and Commonwealth sewer sheds will be inspected early next year.

“Out of the 83 ‘problem areas’ in the City’s eight watersheds, the top two watersheds were Hooff’s Run and Four Mile Run, with 23 ‘problem areas’ each, according to the city. “More detailed planning and analysis will take place to assess the overall implementation feasibility (including construction) prior to full design of these large-scale capital projects.”

The memo states that the cleanup of the Hoof’s Run culvert will cost $2 million, and that the work will take six months.

“(A) tree contractor will be onsite within the next three weeks to remove additional brush and limb up trees with branches that currently overhang the culvert and could interfere with water flow,” notes the memo.

Regardless of citywide improvements, the city is asking residents to make home upgrades.

“This is an opportunity here where you can be thinking about how you can make your personal property more flood resilient,” said T&ES Director Yon Lambert. “Whether that’s considering flood insurance, whether that’s considering investments on your personal property, to make sure that your homes are better prepared to deal with climate change in the future.”

Johnston said that her son almost drowned in 2019 and that her family could have been electrocuted. She says that all of the water is coming from the culvert and that it is a matter of time before someone is killed.

“It’s literally three feet of water coming into our backyards, pushing into our property and there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” she said.

Council will continue the discussion on stormwater infrastructure at its next legislative meeting on October 6.

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