Photo courtesy of Greg Roberts
This evening’s storms have parts of Rhode Island Avenue closed in Bloomingdale due to heavy flooding. The flooding through Bloomingdale is substantial and several houses are reporting flood basements as a high-capacity rainstorm stalled out over the District this evening around 7pm. This photo, taken by friend of We Love DC Greg Roberts shows a swamped Rhode Island Avenue, with almost ten inches of water.
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie reported that there was sewage mixed with the rainwater, showing that perhaps DC Water might have work to do in the area this evening. Our thoughts are with all those suffering property damage and loss of living space tonight.
We’ve received a number of phone calls, tweets and email inquiries from Bloomingdale, LeDroit and Eckington customers who faced flooding last night. We’re so sorry to hear this has happened, and want to provide some background information as well as next steps.
The sewer system under this part of the District was installed generations ago by the federal government. At the time, populations were smaller, rains were likely lighter, and people weren’t commonly living in basements. The system was not designed to handle the volume it handles today. We inherited this system and are working to upgrade it, but this is not a fast, simple or inexpensive process.
We do clean every catch basin in the District once a year, and we come through flood-prone areas to do more cleaning every time a big storm is predicted. This one was not part of any weather forecast. The volume of rain in such a short period would overwhelm many catch basins as well.
The best short-term solution is a backflow preventer, which a licensed plumber can install. The long-term solution is enlarging the capacity of the sewer system, which will come as part of our Clean Rivers Project. It is a 20-year, $2.6 billion effort to build 13 miles of tunnels, which will capture stormwater and sewage and send them to our Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The tunnel will start at Blue Plains and is under construction now. The last segment will make its way from RFK Stadium to Gallaudet University and will relieve the historic flooding problems in Bloomingdale, Eckington and Edgewood.
More details are here: http://www.dcwater.com/workzones/projects/anacostia_river_information_sheet.cfm. Customers with questions can feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202) 612-3400 anytime.
Office of External Affairs
In response to the generic, mass-posted response from DCWater, I have to point out a few things.
For starters, this was NOT an unusual rainstorm and in the age of weather records/data, we can easily prove this. The fact is that we have had many storms greater than this with no system backflow.
Next, please don’t dismiss the clearly obvious correlation between the trash in catch basins with the resulting backflow. There are some basins in the neighborhood that have not been cleaned in years despite repeated calls by residents. Some of these basins happen to be in the middle of residential blocks which makes them a challenge to access. We understand this and have tried to work with 311/DCWater to get a time window or even just a day where we could block off the area directly in front of the basins for service. This has never worked and we then recieve word that the crews could not complete the service due to inaccessibility. We have to find a way to fix this. The unencumbered flow of the basins and their adjacent lines is paramount if we are to avoid another system backflow.
Lastly, it is completely disingenuous to say that a backflow preventer, which costs thousands of dollars, is the answer. While this will stop backflow from the system, it does not address the fact that it also renders all other drains useless, causing inevitable flooding.
Bottom line is that we can work together to finally fix this problem. Instead of looking at increased population density (with no significant new construction, mind you) as a negative or burden on the system, we could look to these residents for help. If every person took care of their drainage issues (and made sure their downspouts are NOT routed into their drains), then we would not be having this conversation.
Here’s to hoping we can solve this problem once and for all.