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Peter’s Take: Waverly Hills Flooding Exposes Flawed CIP Priorities

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As ARLnow.com reported last week, severe flooding struck Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood again on May 22.

Garages and basements flooded, and automobiles were inundated or swept away. Many thousands of dollars in damages were suffered.

Two videos capture the severity of this Waverly Hills flooding:

The Manager’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) reflects a continuing lack of sufficient investment in stormwater management.

Six years ago, in the FY2013-FY2022 CIP, the county included at least three projects designed to mitigate flooding risks in Waverly Hills:

  • Spout Run – 18th Street between Utah & Upton scheduled from FY 2013 – FY 2014
  • Spout Run – 16th Street & Taylor to 19th Road scheduled from FY 2013 – FY 2016
  • Spout Run – 19th Street & Upton to 20th Street scheduled from FY 2016 – FY 2017

The Spout Run – 18th Street project would have constructed approximately 2900 linear feet of 72-inch storm sewer with associated manholes and catch basins between the intersection of 15th Street and Stafford Street and the intersection of 19th Street and Upton Street.

The Spout Run – 16th Street project would have constructed approximately 1700 linear feet of large diameter storm sewer along Taylor Street between 16th Street and 19th Street.

The Spout Run – 19th Street project would have constructed approximately 2000 linear feet of large diameter storm sewer between the intersection of 19th Street and Upton Street and the intersection of 20th Street and 21st Street.

As ARLnow reported, none of these projects has ever been built. When contacted about this by ARLnow.com, a county spokeswoman stated that the county is “still pursuing” those projects, yet noted that “technical challenges and funding remain an issue.”

Arlington County government lacks a comprehensive strategy for effective investment in stormwater management.

An excellent 2017 report, prepared by activist Suzanne Sundburg for the Arlington County Civic Federation (see pp. 4-6), provides important background information regarding Arlington County’s rising flood risks in this era of climate change:

“According to the 2010 Northern Virginia Hazard Mitigation Plan … Update (adopted in 2012), flooding is the single most costly hazard for Arlington County, with FEMA’s HAZUSMH estimating the loss due to flooding alone as more than $3.5 million on an annualized basis.”

A 2015 analysis using Beyond Floods (a flood-risk app) concluded: “Roughly one out of every four U.S. properties subject to flood determination for a loan origination are at risk for flooding even though they lie outside established FEMA floodplains.”

Conclusion

Mark Schwartz was not County Manager when these Waverly Hills stormwater mitigation projects were dropped from the CIP. (Were any from your neighborhood also dropped?)

But since Schwartz became Manager, county government has failed to:

  • develop a comprehensive stormwater mitigation strategy
  • allocate needed investments to mitigate stormwater flooding

Arlington’s stormwater management webpage contains some high-minded goals, but Arlington sorely lacks an effective comprehensive plan to back them up.

The Manager continues to insist that we can “maintain” our infrastructure in “good repair” with the CIP he has proposed, even as he concurrently acknowledges that our stormwater infrastructure is failing and underfunded.

Arlington should adopt a plan similar to the one in Westchester County’s (NY) Flooding and Land Use 552-page manual, which covers the following topics (among many others):

  • flooding causes and their relationship to development
  • comprehensive and watershed planning
  • successful floodplain management tools

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