News

F.C. Citizens Cite “Chronic” Storm Water Problems at Town Hall Meeting

Falls Church City taxpayers may be facing another huge burden on their wallets if the citizen complaints expressed at a town hall meeting in the Community Center tonight result in some major, sweeping reforms by the Falls Church City Council. The town hall was called by City Hall to hear community responses to the “90-Year Flood” rain incident of Sept. 8 when eight inches of rain was dumped on the City, remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, overwhelming the City’s storm water system and causing major flooding of basements, including with sewage as co-mingling of storm water and sewer pipes created added chaos and distress.

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A CITY OF FALLS CHURCH business owner was among many residential owners and others who spoke out at tonight’s town hall meeting on the subject of flooding and the overflow of the City’s storm water and sewer water systems. The storm of Sept. 8, remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, that dropped eight inches of rain on the City that day was the precipitating incident behind tonight’s meeting, but many citizens spoke of chronic problems that recur with frequency. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church City taxpayers may be facing another huge burden on their wallets if the citizen complaints expressed at a town hall meeting in the Community Center tonight result in some major, sweeping reforms by the Falls Church City Council. The town hall was called by City Hall to hear community responses to the “90-Year Flood” rain incident of Sept. 8 when eight inches of rain was dumped on the City, remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, overwhelming the City’s storm water system and causing major flooding of basements, including with sewage as co-mingling of storm water and sewer pipes created added chaos and distress.

What members of the City Council, including Mayor Nader Baroukh and Vice Mayor David Snyder, heard from many of the residents and business owners who spoke up — upwards of 50 people were at the meeting — was not limited to the Sept. 8 event, however. There were numerous reports of periodic flooding, even during rains that seemed otherwise insignificant, and according to one long-time resident, involving no less than 59 such incidents in the Lincoln Avenue-Dorchester Street area in the last 30 years.

But reports of flooding came from all over town, from the Hillwood Avenue area, Douglas Street, Great Falls Street, S. Spring Street, Ellison Heights to the Sherrow, Seaton Lane and W. Cameron areas adjacent Tripps Run, all within the City’s 2.2 square miles.

It came as the biggest surprise to the Council, and City Manager Wyatt Shields, that not only were there spectacular flooding incidents on Sept. 8, but numerous reports by residents of on-going patterns of flooding and the co-mingling of storm water with sewer water.

A distressing response came from the City’s chief water engineer, Rodney Collins, that it was not until 1978 that Virginia law required new homes to allow no connection between storm water and sewer water pipes. That means for 40 to 50 percent of homes in Falls Church, there is the likelihood during heavy rains that storm water and sewage will co-mingle. When that happens, systems overflow and backflow, often causing sewage to come back through toilets in basements that in some cases poured two feet or more into particular basements.

Shields said that some jurisdictions are beginning to pass “muscular” legislation requiring home owners whose systems co-mingle to make expensive modifications to keep the systems apart. However, the cost of such requirements are prohibitive, especially when they would involve up to half the single-family homes in City.

Still, Mayor Baroukh included a harder look into that issue among his four proposals that he laid out at the end of tonight’s meeting. The others involved studying increasing developer pro-rata contributions to address storm water issues arising from new construction, an examination of the carrying capacity of the existing system, overall, and potential modifications to the City’s Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) budget.
Vice Mayor Snyder, during a Council work session following tonight’s town meeting, said that the Council may have to create a dedicated revenue stream for a comprehensive solution to the City’s inadequate storm water infrastructure overall. “We heard tonight that there are a major group of chronic problems, and we would need to address them all with dedicated funding,” he said.

One citizen noted that the so-called “10 year” floods, those whose probability of occurring is once every 10 years, no less that four have occurred in Falls Church in the last eight years.

Shields referenced “climate change” as a serious consideration in calculations going forward, and Council member Johannah Barry echoed that during the work session. She said she’d sat in on a Washington, D.C. Council of Governments webinar on water management last week, and learned that jurisdictions all over the U.S. are facing mammoth problems similar to Falls Chuch’s. She said that cities like Chicago are making major plans to adjust for “climate change” already, and that the cost of doing so is exorbitant.