Local Commentary

Editorial: F.C.’s ‘Crumbling Infrastructure’

Monday night’s town hall meeting in Falls Church, called to deal with the problems of flooding through the Little City’s 2.2 square miles, was a rare occasion when more than just the usual cast of civic activists showed up. Some very real, rarely seen by City Hall, long-time citizens of the City came out, and their stories contradicted sharply the official accounts of the water management problems cited by City officials.

The long and the short of it (the details are provided in a news story on the town hall elsewhere in this edition) is that the City faces a chronic and structural problem of infrastructure lack. The flooding that occurred during the “90-Year Storm” that dumped eight inches of rain on the City on Sept. 8, was, wide-eyed City officials learned, not a one-time problem.

In fact, citizens came prepared with their reports of 59 flooding incidents in one section of town over the last two decades, of property-damaging flooding at least once a year, all across the City, and even the City had to concede that there have been four “10-Year Floods” in the City in the last seven years. Mind you, a “10-Year Flood” is one that is supposed to happen once every 10 years – not four times in seven years.

The City claims to have the water management capacity to handle up to a “10-Year Flood,” and granted, Sept. 8 was a “90-Year Flood” variety and could have been expected to seriously overload the system. But there was an abundance of evidence presented Monday night that the City’s water infrastructure is not even handling much more modest storms.

The causes are legion. There is the booming development in the region, overall, covering more land with impervious surfaces that do not absorb but send rainwater streaming elsewhere. There is global climate change, which experts have been warning about for years, and may require a whole new set of expectations for handling weather events. Then there is a systematic lack of investment in infrastructure maintenance and development to handle changes that are always bound to happen, to a greater or lesser degree, with time.

Falls Church is facing its own version of the “crumbling infrastructure” crisis that the Obama administration is trying to address with its programmatic efforts to stimulate the economy and put people back to work.

Just like the Black Plague was no respecter of persons, so “crumbling infrastructure” hits even the jurisdiction with the highest household income average in the nation, and it has caused unsanitary conditions that could trigger exotic new diseases.

Not only is the water management infrastructure outdated here, it is co-mingled with waste water systems all over town, perhaps in every residence built before 1978 when co-mingling was prohibited in new home construction.

Thus, bubbling up out of Falls Church’s basement toilets is something more ominous than City Hall business as usual can handle.