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Rain barrel (photo via Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash)

The City of Alexandria has a handful of irons in the fire when it comes to stormwater management, but one new approach is one of the oldest tactics: storing runoff in rain barrels.

The city announced yesterday that it’s planning to offer a limited supply of free rain barrels, with more available via raffle at the city libraries.

“The City of Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) Stormwater Management Division will be offering a limited supply of free rain barrels to residents living in the City,” the city said in a release. “Complete the application form by July 31 to register for a free rain barrel. Additionally, a limited number of rain barrels will be reserved for raffles at each of the four library branch locations in the City.”

Those hoping to get a rain barrel must be city residents and have to demonstrate how and where the barrel will be used — presumably to collect rainwater.

“The City encourages the use of rain barrels which capture and store runoff from roofs that would otherwise be directed into the storm sewer network,” the release said.

The city said additional benefits include collecting water to use in gardening and the user is eligible for a credit towards the stormwater utility fee for installation and proper use of a rain barrel — the latter incentive is particularly relevant with stormwater utility fees going up this year.

“This program is in partnership with the Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Partnership Program, sponsored through the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District,” the release said. “The Partnership hosts build-your-own rain barrel workshops throughout the Northern Virginia area.”

Photo via Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash

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A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for Alexandria and the city is starting to see heavy rainfall.

The city is also under an areal flood watch.

“The National Weather Service has issued an Areal Flood Watch for Alexandria,” the city said in a release. “Avoid small streams and do not drive through water on roadways.”

The thunderstorm warning comes almost a week after a severe thunderstorm knocked out power to portions of the city until Monday afternoon.

From the National Weather Service:

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
1147 AM EDT Fri May 27 2022

The National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia has issued a

* Severe Thunderstorm Warning …

* Until 1230 PM EDT.

* At 1146 AM EDT, severe thunderstorms were located along a line extending from Lansdowne to near Chantilly to near Lake Ridge, moving northeast at 40 mph.

HAZARD…60 mph wind gusts.

SOURCE…Radar indicated.

IMPACT…Damaging winds will cause some trees and large branches to fall. This could injure those outdoors, as well as damage homes and vehicles. Roadways may become blocked by downed trees. Localized power outages are possible. Unsecured light objects may become projectiles.

* Locations impacted include… Arlington, Alexandria, Germantown, Centreville, Rockville, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Reston, Annandale, Clinton, Olney, Springfield, College Park, South Riding, Fort Washington, Herndon, Greenbelt, Fairfax, Langley Park and Beltsville.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 PM EDT for District of Columbia…central Maryland…and northern Virginia.

For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building.

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 200 PM EDT for District of Columbia…central Maryland…and northern Virginia.

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Alexandria and Arlington will start clearing debris and dredging Four Mile Run in September, and the project will close sections of the park from the public for four to six months.

The City and County maintain a shared flood-control channel in the lower portion of the nine-mile-long stream, and have partnered to dredge Four Mile Run since 1974.

“The work that is upcoming will be maintenance work and it will include dredging or removing some of the soil and rock deposits, which will restore the channel to the capacity so that it can pass a 100 year storm, or a storm that has a 1% chance of happening every year,” Aileen Winquist, Arlington’s stormwater communications manager, said in a community meeting Tuesday night (May 17).

The work area includes portions of Four Mile Run Park and Lower Long Branch, near Arlington’s Troy Park. The project will not impact the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market.

It will take up to six months to dredge at Four Mile Run Park and about a month to dredge the area around Troy Park, Winquist said.

The Four Mile Run dredge project includes shutting down the Four Mile Run Park parking lot along Mount Vernon Avenue for dredging equipment, as well as closure and detour of a section of the park trail.

Four Mile Run Park is also undergoing a trail bridge replacement near the baseball fields.

Maps via Arlington County

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The Alexandria Police Department has closed several streets near the waterfront due to flooding.

“The street closures run from King and Union Street To Prince and Union Street,” the Alexandria Police Department said in a tweet. “Cars parked in the area may be relocated.”

The tide is rising in Alexandria with high tide expected at 3:15 p.m.

The flooding comes after a fairly rainy weekend for the region.

Tidal flooding is a fairly common problem along Alexandria’s waterfront. A flood mitigation plan to combat future flooding is in the works, albeit with a reduced budget.

Image via Google Maps

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Weather radar around Alexandria, image via National Weather Service

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a flood warning for Alexandria after heavy rainfall yesterday afternoon (Friday).

“The National Weather Service has issued an areal Flood Warning for Alexandria,” the NWS said in a text alert. “Avoid small streams and do not drive through water on roadways.”

The flood warning is expected to stay in effect until 7:45 a.m. this morning (Saturday).

Much of the area has been under a flood watch since 3 p.m. this afternoon with forecasts predicting heavy rainfall throughout the evening.

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The city of Alexandria is getting ready to drop $102 million to fix flooding along the waterfront.

A proposal by the Waterfront Commission’s Flood Mitigation Committee, pitched to the Waterfront Commission at their April 19 meeting, outlined the potential pump stations, underground stormwater detention chambers, and streetscape and other stormwater infrastructure improvements for the ongoing efforts to implement the Waterfront Small Area Plan.

“This scenario has an estimated cost of approximately $102 million, consistent with the CIP funding allocated to Waterfront Small Area Plan implementation,” the draft plan said. “According to City staff, estimated costs are accurate at the level of detail appropriate for this stage in the planning process. Affordability will continue to be evaluated during the design-development process as construction and material costs continue to escalate in excess of historic average rates typically used to account for inflation.”

The cost is scaled back from earlier plans with cost estimates ranging from $170 million to $215 million.

Its proposed features include pump stations in Waterfront Park and the Queen Street right of way, south of Founders Park, underground stormwater detention chambers under Waterfront Park and Founders Park, and retention of the recent improvements in northern Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street,” the plan said.

The plan indicated areas where costs were cut, like using a cost-effective paving material in the streetscape improvements, but other bigger costs were averted by shifting the focus from ideal improvements to restoring the existing waterfront bulkheads.

Waterfront Park restoration plan, image via City of Alexandria

This would maintain the existing bulkhead rather than replacing or encapsulating it in its entirety. This approach will provide the intended level of flood protection at a reduced capital cost. Both staff and the committee acknowledge that deferred investments in eventual bulkhead replacement will still be required, and not precluded, by this approach.

The plan also notes that some of the improvements cut back in the plan should still be pursued in later budgets:

CIP funds allocated by City Council to Waterfront Small Area Plan implementation were originally intended to complete a full slate of waterfront capital projects, including parks and flood mitigation improvements. Given recent changes in program scope and high capital cost escalation, the budget is no longer sufficient to accomplish all anticipated elements. The committee recommends that additional budget be reserved in future year CIPs to finish parks as envisioned in the plan, or that alternate revenue streams be adopted to fund park and public space improvements. In addition, the City should continue to proactively pursue funding from federal and state grant programs, private philanthropy, and other sources to fund improvements that realize the City’s vision for the waterfront.

The document said that, where possible, the plan has built-in options for future investments. In other cases, like at Waterfront Park, future improvements could cost more in the long-term as a result of having to redo parts of the park.

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Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne in the alley behind his house after flooding in Del Ray. (Courtesy photo)

(Updated 8:30 p.m.) As part of an upcoming overview of the budget, Alexandria’s City Council will be considering an increase in the stormwater utility fee (item 16).

The fee is scheduled to increase from $280 to $294 for the stormwater utility fee bill due Nov. 15 this year.

The increase is scheduled for second reading and a public hearing at the meeting on Saturday, April 23, with the final passage of the ordinance scheduled for Wednesday, May 4.

The increase is more modest than last year’s increase, which doubled the stormwater utility fee from $140 to $280 by November. The aim of last year’s fee increase was to help accelerate the timetable for needed stormwater projects.

The City Council is also scheduled to consider budget add/delete proposals as well as the establishment of the real and personal property tax rates, also scheduled for final approval in May.

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(Updated 7:25 p.m.) While there are still some issues with infrastructure over Four Mile Run, Alexandria and Arlington are moving forward with a project to clean out what’s under it.

In a recent newsletter about flooding infrastructure, the city announced an upcoming meeting to discuss the particulars of a dredging project in Four Mile Run.

“Members of the community are invited to a virtual public meeting on May 17, about a project to dredge Four Mile Run,” the newsletter said. “Dredging Four Mile Run is an important federal flood control measure. Alexandria and Arlington have partnered to dredge Four Mile Run since 1974. Periodic dredging of significant accumulated sediment in the channel that borders the municipalities is required to maintain conveyance capacity and freeboard for the channel as set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)previously determined in a 2021 inspection that soil deposit levels were “unacceptable” due to excessive shoaling — an indication that the creek is too shallow and could present a flooding hazard.

The USACE inspection determined the channel had “excessive shoaling” due to shallow water depths. Dredging the soil deposits will address this shoaling and ensure the channel can handle large, once-in-a-century floods, the county says.

The dredging is included in a federal flood control project, and per an agreement as far back as 1974, Arlington and Alexandria have joint responsibility for maintenance of the channel. The city’s website notes that the north side of the channel is obviously Arlinton’s responsibility, and the south side is Alexandria’s responsibility.

The city website said the project will restore capacity to the channel and clear away debris, vegetation growth and more that’s grown in Four Mile Run.

The dredging project is scheduled to run from September 2022 to February 2023.

H/t to Ronald Gochenour for noting the inspection report and explaining excessive shoaling

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Nearly a year after Alexandria launched a flood mitigation program to reimburse projects on private properties, the city is apologizing for some delays with the program and said the process should be streamlined soon.

The Flood Mitigation Grant Program partially reimburses residents to install flood mitigation practices on their property. The pilot program launched last August and received over 175 applications. Applicants can receive a reimbursement of up to 50% of their project costs, up to $5,000. So far, the city has reimbursed nearly $300,000 worth of flood mitigation projects.  Bill Skrabak, deputy director of Infrastructure & Environmental Quality, said the city was hopeful it would get some use but wasn’t prepared for the number of grant requests.

“We launched the pilot phase of the Flood Mitigation Grant Program feeling hopeful people would take advantage — and we’ve been blown away by the tremendous number of applications submitted to the City,” Skrabak wrote in a city newsletter about flood mitigation. It’s taken us a bit longer than expected to process applications and issue payments. “I apologize for the delays you’ve experienced and can promise you we’re working on ways to speed up the application process to make it easier for you. Please bear with us as we streamline our process.”

Still, Skrabak said some residents have been making modifications to their home, like flood gates and sump pumps, which have helped in subsequent floods. The goal, Skrabak said, is to have private flood mitigations help support the bigger public infrastructure projects that store and convey excessive runoff.

“We understand climate change will continue bringing intense storms that wreak havoc on our region,” Skrabak said. “However, residents can take back some control by taking steps to mitigate flooding on their properties with financial assistance from the City.”

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A construction crew installs a check valve on East Mason Street in November (via City of Alexandria)

City staff laid out what’s ahead for some of the city’s stormwater infrastructure projects in a presentation prepared for the City Council’s meeting tonight (Tuesday).

Three large projects to increase sewer capacity are planned in Del Ray, according to the Flood Action Alexandria presentation. Two of the projects — a $34 million undertaking at East Glebe Road and Commonwealth Avenue and a $16 million project at Ashby Street and East Glebe Road — were merged together for planning purposes. The two projects are next to each other in the Four Mile Run watershed.

“This project is expected to increase the capacity, or size, of the stormwater sewer pipes; create opportunities for stormwater to be stored and released slowly over time; and incorporate ‘green infrastructure’ practices, such as permeable pavement, that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground, reducing runoff,” the city website states.

The contract for work in the Four Mile Run watershed is estimated to be awarded sometime this spring, with the project targeted for completion in 2025.

Another, called the Hooff’s Run Culvert/Timber Branch Bypass, is at the southern end of Del Ray. The $60 million project will construct a new stormwater pipe system to transport stormwater away from the Hooff’s Run Culvert, helping manage flows from the Timber Branch watershed, the city website states. The city plans to put out a request for qualifications for that project this spring.

Between fiscal years 2023 and 2032, the city proposes to fund $156 million in large capacity projects, $55 million in maintenance, $44 million in spot improvements and $18 million in water quality projects, according to the presentation.

The presentation lists two spot improvement projects in the design phase and another two in construction phase. Spot improvements are small capital projects meant to address localized flooding and draining issues relating to the city’s storm sewer system.

Cul-de-sac inlets and drainage are being designed for the Mount Vernon Avenue cul-de-sac near Blue Park. At Oakland Terrace in Rosemont, the city is in the design phase to stabilize degrading and eroding banks and protect sanitary sewer line.

The city is also increasing inlet capacity at Hume Avenue in the Potomac Yard area, and not far away at Clifford Avenue, and Fulton and Manning streets. The latter work started at the end of February.

Vernon Miles contributed to this article. Photo via City of Alexandria.

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