Many recent community discussions about flooding have included well-intentioned suggestions that Falls Church should prioritize “green infrastructure,” which includes rain gardens, rain barrels, and other strategies, above the need to upgrade our stormwater drainage.
Let’s set the record straight: Green infrastructure can help improve stormwater quality, but it is not necessarily a cost-effective strategy to prevent repeated flood damage to homes and businesses from major storms like the ones the City endured the past three summers.
For example, a 2020 Public Works memo estimated that a green infrastructure retention facility nearly the size of a football field and 10 feet deep, costing about $10 million, would provide the Trammel Branch watershed the same flood protection during an intense storm as replacing a pipe at a bottleneck for a small fraction of that cost.
Falls Church has greatly benefitted from VPIS and the City encouraging residents to install rain gardens and rain barrels, and to plant more trees. We also thank City Council and City staff for their strong commitment in recent years to alleviate repeated flooding while exploring ways to add green infrastructure.
Falls Church’s stormwater strategy should prioritize “rightsizing” our drainage system and reducing impervious areas that lack stormwater management with a secondary goal of adding green infrastructure when and wherever possible. The Stormwater Task Force also recommended that the City emphasize reducing impervious surfaces that accelerate runoff. This comprehensive approach will meet our dual challenges of reducing repeated flooding, which was City Council’s primary goal creating the Task Force, along with continuing to improve the quality of water that the City discharges to streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
Many stormwater investments over the last 15 years improved water quality, but our flooding problems have worsened during that time. The City needs to continue investments in preventing repeated flooding. The six priority stormwater projects are a great start, and those will take years to complete. More recently, the Stormwater Task Force recommended four projects with more green infrastructure benefits high in our watersheds, which will help with both water quality and, to a lesser extent, water quantity downstream.