Your Views: City action needed on broken infrastructure

Your Views: City action needed on broken infrastructure
Courtesy photo

To the editor:

Flooding is not a new problem for Alexandria, as your piece “Out of the Attic: Flooding is an old problem in Alexandria” from 2011 points out. While some still have rising streams contributing to their woes, many can tie problems directly to an insufficient and crumbling infrastructure that has been largely ignored for years, if not decades.

While leaders are responsive and sympathetic, they continue to advocate home waterproofing and promise discounted flood insurance. Both do little to help in the short term and nothing to address our insufficient and crumbling infrastructure. Home valuations and property tax rates have nonetheless continued to rise.

City officials release statements, including in a memo dated Sept. 11, 2020, touting that while “the City’s design capacity is consistent with or more protective than some of the City’s neighboring jurisdictions” that (a) they know that hundred-year storms are occurring more frequently, (b) “many older areas of the City have storm sewer infrastructure that was installed decades prior to the current de- sign standards and already lack capacity,” and (c) there are 90 areas identified in the 2016 City of Alexandria Storm Sewer Capacity Analysis report that do not meet this current design standard.

Since 2010, the City has assessed a 1⁄2-cent real estate tax that raises approximately $1 million annually for stormwater investments. In the four years since releasing the 2016 CASSCA report, little has been done to address the issues it found.

A stormwater utility fee was added in FY2018 that brings in approximately $11 million per year. That funding is designated for capacity and water quality projects associated with the federally mandated Chesapeake Bay cleanup, not solely capacity issues.

According to the City’s website, the CASSCA report “recommended more than $40 million in storm sewer capacity investments (in 2016 dollars) in Hooff’s Run and Four Mile Run alone” yet the City’s capital improvement program has allocated only “$7.5 million towards storm sewer capacity improvements starting in fiscal year 2023.”

For more context, according to a recent post by Mayor Justin Wilson, the Hooff’s Run and Four Mile Run areas account for only 46 of those 90 identified areas referenced above. We believe that this is unacceptable.

The City’s short-term solutions, such as individual waterproofing measures and reevaluating floodplain maps, not only fail to address the underlying issue of the City’s stormwater capacity, but in some cases actually compound the problem by redirecting backups into the City streets, alleyways, basements and stairwells.

Even for residents who have invested in such measures, they don’t address secondary drains that rely on the sewer line to remove accumulating water in the stairwell.

Thus, a resident who does not know that their basement drain ties directly into their sewer line is often surprised to find one of two things during major rain events. Those without backflow preventers have sewage backup and those with preventers have storm runoff backup behind their closed preventer. Both often lead to costly flooding.

Sump pumps do much of the same, redirecting water out into alleyways or streets, forcing it back into the system. Numerous households just finished re-modeling their basements after the July 23 flood only to have everything ruined again Sept. 10. Some residents lost cars to water damage.

Many residents find themselves fearful of losing their homes due to repeated insurance claims within years or even weeks of one another. Adding salt to the wound is the City’s backflow preventer program, ingeniously designed to absolve the City of liability for homeowners desperate for financial assistance with costly “fixes.”

It’s hard to find comfort in the fact that the City of Alexandria’s standards meet or exceed those of neighboring jurisdictions when our basements, alleyways and streets routinely flood with sewage. City leaders who keep pointing to this as a reasonable response are tone-deaf.

It’s also dehumanizing to have to choose between sending your child to day care during a global pandemic or keeping them at home while cleaning up, as both options leave the entire family more open and vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.

For years the City has known about these issues and it’s no secret that with each passing year the cost to fix them rise. While statements by the mayor and others that Council will discuss how to accelerate timelines are encouraging, many worry that the problem is too vast, and the fixes too great for those of us who have already suffered two to three floods in as many years.

-Katherine Waynick, Alexandria