- The Washington Times
Sunday, July 22, 2012

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie is calling for an “all hands on deck” effort to stem too-frequent flooding in the Bloomingdale neighborhood after a string of devastating rainstorms this month.

Mr. McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, called on multiple city agencies to find ways to mitigate the effects of stormwater that damaged homes and businesses and trapped motorists on three occasions in the past two weeks.

“They’ve been hit pretty hard,” Mr. McDuffie said of his constituents. “They’re upset this is an ongoing problem that is well-documented.”

Bloomingdale is an increasingly popular neighborhood located south of McMillan Reservoir and north of Florida Avenue. It abuts North Capitol Street on its eastern edge and is bisected by Rhode Island Avenue, a main corridor that has been plagued by rushing water and stranded vehicles in sudden, fierce bouts of rainfall.

The neighborhood’s flooding problems are related to an outdated sewer system that will be remedied as part of the Clean Rivers Project, “a system of tunnels, sewers and other diversion structures to control and capture overflow throughout the city,” according to D.C. Water.

But the multi-stage project will not be completed until 2025.

“That solution is too far out,” Mr. McDuffie said Friday, shortly before the D.C. Department of Public Works doled out sandbags to residents bracing for additional rain over the weekend.

The city will take on short-term efforts to avoid flooded basements and streets, such as routine cleaning of stormwater drains and frequent inspections of sewer systems to make sure they are not obstructed, officials said.

“Nobody should have the anxiety of looking up at the sky before every rainfall or running down the basement steps to check for infiltration,” George S. Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, said in a memo to Bloomingdale residents.

He said the sewer system that serves the neighborhood was installed in the late 19th century as a combined sewer, in which wastewater from homes and stormwater flows into the same pipe.

“Meanwhile, the community continued to grow,” Mr. Hawkins told residents. “These demographic shifts and the changing nature and duration of our summer storms have created a set of conditions the main sewer serving this part of the District cannot handle.”

The city installed a new sewer under Thomas Street and added catch basins in the neighborhood in 2006, yet D.C. Water believes development in Bloomingdale has continued to increase demands on the neighborhood’s water systems since then.

The city’s water authority is developing a rebate program for residents who obtain back-flow preventers, a plumbing device that keeps sewage from backing up during storms but can cost $2,000-$3,000 for the average residence to purchase and install. Other cities, including Alexandria, offer such rebates to encourage use of the devices, although the District has not set the amount of its financial assistance.

Employees from D.C. Water are scheduled to address residents’ concerns at a special meeting of the Bloomingdale Civic Association on Aug. 4 at St. George’s Episcopal Church on U Street in Northwest.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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