Falls Church City Leaders, Residents Tackle Flood Prevention

Falls Church city leaders and residents are working together on flood prevention to minimize damage from storms like the one that hit last month.

The City of Falls Church held a meeting to discuss the impact of the severe flash flooding on July 8 with residents Wednesday night (Aug. 7).

The meeting kicked off with a staff presentation to update the roughly 50 people who filled the council chambers.

While City Manager Wyatt Shields said that the city has started some utility improvements, like enlarging the stormwater channel and increasing stormwater detention, the city now needs to shift its focus from water quality to quantity.

The city’s annual budget has $1.6 million dedicated to stormwater projects, he said.

“This Is Not The First Time”

Mayor David Tartar kicked off the meeting by stressing a need for better flood prevention for possibly more severe flooding in the future.

“It seems like these once in a lifetime events are happening more often,” Tartar told the attendees, adding that the city wants to take a holistic approach to solving city-wide problems.

Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting, though, said that flooding issues are already recurring problems, including sewage backups to surface flooding.

“This is not the first time this has happened,” one female resident said.

Susan, a Poplar Drive resident, said that Laura Drive — the street right below hers — floods every time there is heavy rain. “Water comes down in a torrent to the neighbor’s house,” she said. Susan’s husband added that the storm drain overflows “multiple times a year.”

Al, another resident on Popular Drive who has lived in Falls Church for over a decade, said that “the stream of water happens every year.”

A resident named Dennis said that Hillwood Avenue has a “long history of flooding” from water flowing down from other properties.

Tom Clinton, who lives on Hillwood Avenue, said that an “inappropriate system” is often overwhelmed, causing frequent flooding. “It’s just so aggravating,” Clinton said, adding that he had 6 inches of water in his basement after the July 8 flooding.

Even though flooding-related issues might not be new to residents, many described taxing and costly damage from the July 8 flood.

Margaret, a Falls Church resident for 48 years, said that she lost everything in her basement after the flooding hit.

Another resident said that she had to mop up sewage in her home from flooding, which displaced three people from the house. One person, who she said doesn’t have health insurance, in the house got a staph infection.

“I think the whole health thing with the sewage is huge,” the woman said.

Working Toward Better Prevention

As Falls Church tackles the issues described by residents, Alan Dalton, the city’s stormwater and sewer engineer, said that the city council will set up a steering committee to elicit input on the city’s upcoming updates to its 2012 stormwater management plan.

Dalton provided the following schedule for updating the plan:

  • September: create the steering committee
  • fall: identify top priorities from community input
  • spring 2020: determine cost estimates
  • summer 2020: begin implementation

Dalton proposed a handful of solutions for the sanitary system, which included lining the sewer mains with fiberglass, installing waterproof manhole covers, incentivizing repair of old cracked private laterals and assisting with backflow devices in certain areas.

Already, the city has relined about half of its sanitary system with fiberglass over the last 15 years and has installed some waterproof manhole covers on flood-prone streets, Dalton said.

Many of the residents at the meeting offered up proposed solutions as well, including an incentive for neighbors to retain water in their yards, a rebate for backflow prevention and more guidance from the city on costly flood damage repairs.

Ellen, a resident on S. Lee Street who said she had 6 feet of water flood her basement, urged the City Council to work with residents on common problems. “We are all trying on our own to fix similar issues,” she said.

“This is so confusing to us homeowners,” Carol, who lives on Columbia Street, said. “We need information. We want to do the right thing.”

Federal Loans for Residents and Business Owners

While the city works to improve its sanitary sewer and stormwater systems, residents and business owners can now take advantage of federal loans to help with flooding damage.

Gov. Ralph Northam today (Thursday) announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will offer low-interest federal loans to people in the City of Falls Church, along with Fairfax and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria.

Northam said that the loans will “help Virginians get back on their feet and move forward as quickly as possible.”

Businesses and private nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million, while residents may borrow up to $200,000 for damaged or destroyed real estate and up to $40,000 for personal property.

People can go to two loan centers — one at Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library (7584 Leesburg Pike) and another at Arlington County Trades Center (2700 South Taylor Street).

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