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With changes to credit program and boosts to infrastructure projects, Alexandria is fighting back on flooding

Furniture drying out after flooding in Del Ray after a massive storm on August 14, 2021. (via DrainALX/Twitter)

Alexandria still bears scars from the intense 2019 floods — notably the ongoing closure of much of Four Mile Run. Local residents are still reeling from floods since then, but some in city government have been pushing over the last few years to better prepare both city residents and infrastructure for future flooding.

There’s a suite of major stormwater infrastructure projects ongoing around Alexandria, but another major focus from the city has been working with locals to help flood-proof homes.

Last week, the city opened the application window for the Stormwater Utility Fee Credit Program.

The stormwater utility fee is an additional utility fee for locals, with funding from the fee going to support flooding infrastructure projects. For the average single-family homeowner, it’s a roughly $294 fee. The credit program incentivizes locals to install flood-mitigation projects on their property in exchange for credits toward their stormwater utility fee.

Participation in the program has been spotty, but Jesse Maines, division chief for Stormwater Management, said the new changes are the biggest since the program launched in 2018 and aim to make the credits more accessible.

Maines said changes include decreased documentation demands and increases in what’s covered by the credits. Originally the program was more focused on projects that improve water quality, but now many DIY projects focused on preventing damage to property from flooding are included.

Those home improvement projects, called dry floodproofing, keep properties safe from the impacts of floodwater. That can include things like building plexiglass over basement windows, raising air conditioning units off the ground, and more.

“It has been somewhat steady up and down,” said Maines. “Last year we saw 71 applications for the credit. This year, the window is from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15, and we’ve already seen 20 applications, so we’re on track to outpace previous participation in the program.”

In addition to simplifications in the application process, Maines said changes mean residents could get more taken off of their bills.

“One past participant, before the simplification, was getting a 3% reduction on their fee for a rain barrel,” Maines said. “We increased that to 5%. We added a measure for mature trees and a no-fertilizer pledge because fertilizer has a big impact on water quality. They went from a 3% reduction to a 30% reduction in their fee.”

Maines said it can be difficult for residents to know where to start, but the no-fertilizer pledge and installing rain barrels under downspouts are both easy paths into flood mitigation projects.

Another big boost to the credit program this year is an overlap with the Flood Mitigation Grant Program launched last year. The grant program reimburses residents for the cost of many flood mitigation projects, and with the utility credit program, those projects can also count toward getting the stormwater utility fee reduced.

“It’s a reimbursement program for up to $5,000 of floodproofing on those homes,” Maines said. “A good portion of those are now included in the stormwater utility credit program.”

The grant program was popular enough to suffer a bit of a backlog early in 2022. Maines said he’s hopeful that the two programs can help boost each other.

“If we had 71 participants last year, could we get 150 this year?” Maines said. “That’s what we’re hoping, really. There is a benefit to water quality and flooding, so we see this as money well spent. People get to reduce their fee and you raise awareness for flooding and water quality issues.”

Maines said the credit programs have been geographically pretty widespread, but with notable pockets in areas like Rosemont or Del Ray that have experienced severe funding.

The last day to apply for the stormwater utility credit is Feb. 15, and the credits are good for two years.

Meanwhile, the city is also moving forward on some of the larger capacity projects. Two major projects recently hit milestones and one of those, the project at Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road/Ashby Street and East Glebe Road, saw design work start last week with a site visit.

Maines said, at the moment, there are 35 projects in the works around Alexandria, ranging from larger capacity projects to smaller ones.

In general, Maines said some of the initially hostile community reaction to the city’s flooding response has faded as work on some of the more high-profile projects has gotten underway and city staff has visited around the affected communities.

“We’ve been going out in the community, we went out to almost 20 or 19 different neighborhoods,” Maines said. “We went on-site and talked to people. We had Zoom meetings to talk about issues people had to get better detailed information. It helps that some of us are in the city and we experience flooding as well, we have to have that empathy to know what people are going through, and letting them know that we are committed to these projects and council is supporting us.”

More information on the credit program, including a step-by-step application guide, is available at the city’s website.

Photo via DrainALX/Twitter

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