(Updated on 07/29/19) Arlington County will not be paying for the cost of clean-up from sewage back-ups into people’s homes during the July 8 flash flood emergency.
A spokesperson for the County Manager’s office said today (Friday) that the county “sympathizes with proper owners” recovering from the unusually strong storm and “regrets” any damage caused, but “unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm.”
As the rainstorm dumped water on Arlington two weeks ago, stormwater runoff filled basements in homes and businesses — as did some sewage. The Department of Environmental Services previously told ARLnow that water flooded some sewer pipes, backing up sewage into people’s homes.
The result was raw sewage flowing into basements, and in some cases, potentially washing up to the first floor of homes, as evidenced by the smells still lingering days after the storm in some houses hit hard in Westover.
“Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual,” said County Manager’s office spokesman Ben Hampton. “While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm.”
One tipster who lives near the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods said his house was flooded after the main sewer line near his house flooded, “leaving us pretty much helpless as the county sewage flooded into our basement.”
When asked how many homes were affected by damaged sewer lines during the sewer line, county spokeswoman Bryna Helfer did not yet know and added that, “our primary focus right now is on pursuing the federal and state assistance.”
Over 1,000 residents and business owners filed post-storm damage claims with the county as part of Arlington’s preparation to request aid from the state or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hampton said the county is currently reviewing the the damage assessment from the claims which determines the county’s aid eligibility.
“At this time, we have no reason to believe that homeowners with major damage would not be eligible for aid if it’s approved,” added Helfer.
“The most likely form of aid is from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides low-interest loans to disaster victims, including homeowners, renters, and businesses, for repairs or replacement of disaster-damaged buildings and property,” she said. “SBA can also provide capital to businesses. The County is also pursuing aid under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to individuals and families who have sustained losses due to disasters.”
Prior to the July 8 flooding, damage from clogged county sewers has occasionally damaged homes, including several incidents in the Madison Manor neighborhood, leaving residents on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs.
The full response from the County Manager’s office is below.
The County sympathizes with property owners recovering from the July 8, 2019 storm, which dumped an unprecedented amount of rain in the region and caused significant damage to public infrastructure as well as private property. The County regrets any damage that may have been caused to private property from the County’s public sewer lines being damaged or overwhelmed by this storm. Unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm. Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual. While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm. Property owners are encouraged to check with their insurance carriers and to explore the possibility of obtaining flood insurance for their properties. Additional information regarding the July 8 storm is available on the Flood Recovery Center at arlingtonva.us/flood-recovery.
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Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Arlington County has pledged to inspect the Madison Manor neighborhood’s sewers more often after sewage flooded homes last month for the third time since 2001.
“Typically, our maintenance program calls for inspections of our sewer pipes every four years; however, we have more aggressive schedules of 1, 3 and 6 months for known problem areas,” said Jessica Baxter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Services.
“Given the most recent blockage on April 7, 2019, Water Sewer Streets crews will now be monitoring, inspecting and cleaning this location on a six-month rotation,” Baxter added.
Sewage flooded five homes on N. Powhatan Street on April 7, which required crews to work through the night to address the underlying blockage, ARLnow previously reported.
“Three houses on the street were flooded with county sewage both in  and in 2001,” wrote three Madison Manor residents in a letter to ARLnow this week. “On April 7, when the county sewage system failed us for a third time, five houses were affected.”
Tree roots blocking the sewer main caused the first two floods, Baxter said, with debris in the sewer main causing the most recent backup. The county lined the pipes in 2002 to protect from intruding tree roots, she said. It also added a second pipe segment downstream in 2008 to improve flow.
Each flood of raw sewage cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars, according to copies of bills and insurance claims reviewed by ARLnow.
One neighborhood resident, Anne Riley, said her home was flooded all three times, with the latest flood costing $18,000. She wrote in an email that she is submitting a claim to her homeowners insurance but will have to foot her policy’s $2,000 deductible.
“Three times in 20 years is ridiculous,” Riley said. “We don’t even know all we lost.”
Another neighbor, Dave Oaks, said he couldn’t supply receipts for the flood damages to his home in 2001 and 2008 because they were stored in boxes in the basement — which were destroyed in last month’s flood.
Oaks noted the damages from this year’s flood will “run into the tens of thousands” and shared the costs he’s incurred so far:
- Remove the filth, damaged furniture and contents, salvage and store remaining contents, de-water, dry and disinfect, remove the bottom 3 feet of drywall, all flooring, doors, and baseboards, haul off all the debris (initial estimate ~$8,500)
- Rebuild walls, doors, baseboards, flooring, re-set bathroom fixtures, paint (initial estimate ~$11,500)
- Replace washer, dryer, water heater (estimate ~$2,800)
- Replace contents (no idea since we haven’t finished our inventory)
- $500 insurance deductible
Neighbor Karen Lewis cited similar costs for the April flood. She told ARLnow that she spent $9,900 so far to inspect the furnace and remove her basement’s contaminated drywall, carpeting, downstairs shower, and hot water heater.
“Our homeowners insurance company estimates the rebuilding costs will be at least $16,000, before even beginning to replace our destroyed or contaminated furnishings and possessions,” she said.
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Sewage flooded a number of houses on N. Powhatan Street earlier this week, but officials say they’ve addressed contamination worries for a nearby public park.
Five homes in the Madison Manor neighborhood were flooded early Monday morning after a sewer main clogged, and it took crews all night to clear the line, per a statement from the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Officials said they don’t yet know what caused the blockage.
Neighbor Steve Starr told ARLnow he worried about nearby Madison Manor Park being contaminated, but those concerns were addressed by county crews.
A DES spokeswoman confirmed there was sewage discharge “adjacent to the park” from a house’s sump pump but that the sewage had “mostly infiltrated to the ground,” and that crews had applied disinfectant to the area. There was no impact to nearby trails, which connect to the W&OD Trail, the spokeswoman said.
Starr noted that crews were dispatched quickly to start the cleanup process inside the homes.
“Residents of N. Powhatan woke up to men in moon suits entering their houses to clean sewage,” he said.
The full statement from DES is below.
There was a sewage backup that was reported last night, impacting approximately five homes in the 1200 block of North Powhatan Street. Crews worked overnight to flush the line and were able to break through the blockage around 1 a.m. The flow in the main quickly returned to normal and houses started to see relief around the same time as well. The line has been cleaned and inspected and is now back in service. We will continue to monitor it and investigate the potential issue for the blockage.
If customers continue to experience issues, please contact the Water Control Center at 703-228-6555.
Photo via Steve Starr
UPDATE: The sewage line leak into Donaldson Run was stopped overnight with a bypass installation. Pipe repairs continue. Photo shows the remote location of the leak, adjacent to Zachary Taylor Park. pic.twitter.com/OcLdVOcjCz
— Arlington DES (@ArlingtonDES) November 14, 2017
Workers from the county’s Department of Environmental Services stopped a sewage leak into the Donaldson Run stream overnight.
According to a tweet from DES, crews installed a bypass overnight into a sewage pipe, which broke due to its age, damage from tree roots and the recent cold temperatures.
Repairs to the pipe, which is in a remote location next to Zachary Taylor Park (2900 Military Road), are ongoing.
A DES spokesman said that the remote location made the leak hard to find, but that staff had been aware since last weekend.
“[S]taff did log the leak report over the weekend and the search began soon thereafter,” the spokesman said. “It just took a while for crews to find the leak because of the remote location — which you can see on the tweet photo.”
The spokesman reiterated that the “discharge that entered Donaldson Run will be diminished by natural flushing of the stream over time.”
A broken sewer pipe caused a sewage leak into the Donaldson Run stream, affecting the water in two parks in Arlington County.
A spokesman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services said a resident reported discharge of sewage into the stream in Zachary Taylor Park (2900 Military Road) this morning.
On further inspection, the spokesman said, DES crews found that a sewage pipe had broken due to its age, damage from tree roots and the recent cold temperatures. Crews plan to repair it tomorrow (Tuesday), the spokesman added.
Those in the area should avoid contact with the water in the stream in Zachary Taylor Park downstream from N. Upshur Street, and also in the nearby Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 Marcey Road).
“The discharge that entered Donaldson Run will be diminished by natural flushing of the stream over time,” the spokesman said.
Both parks will remain open to the public.
Image via Google Maps
Citing an “imminent health hazard,” the county’s health department has closed the following: Maki of Japan, McDonald’s, Popeyes, Panera Bread, Great Wraps and Which Wich.
“Public Health is aware of the situation and will work with the establishments to help get them up and running when it is safe to do so,” said Arlington County Dept. of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick.
Several other restaurants in the mall’s food court were unaffected by the sewage issue and remain open.
An advisory warning to people to avoid contact with water from Donaldson Run has been lifted.
The advisory was put into place on July 11 after sewage from a broken pipe leaked into the stream by Military Drive. Two additional leaks followed three days later, causing the county to issue another advisory.
The first leak spewed 4,500 gallons of sewage. The second leak released 9,000 gallons and the third had 11,250 gallons, county spokeswoman Meghan McMahon said.
The sewage in the water was naturally flushed out and the county fixed the broken pipe, as well as the protective casing around it.
The county recently tested the water downstream from the break for E. Coli and found normal levels, according to a county press release.
Although there is no more sewage in the water, people should still never drink or bathe in stream water, according to the county. Residents should also always wash their hands after coming in contact with water from local streams.
(Updated at 11:10 p.m.) Multiple sewage leaks have led Arlington County staff to warn residents to continue avoiding contact with water from Donaldson Run near and downstream from the pedestrian bridge above Military Road.
A sewage pipe running through Donaldson Run broke on Saturday, causing a sewage spill of 4,500 gallons, Arlington County spokeswoman Meghan McMahon said. Since fixing the initial break, the county has found two additional leaks.
The second leak, found on Monday, released 9,000 gallons of sewage, and the county does not yet know how much the third one — found today — has leaked, McMahon said.
Signs about the sewage are currently posted along and at entrances of the Donaldson Run trail.
“There has been a sewage release to the stream. As a precaution, please avoid contact with stream water,” according to the signs.
Arlington County also sent out two Arlington Alerts, one to notify residents of the sewage leak advisory on July 11 and a second one today (July 14) to let people know it was still in place. The advisory will be in place for several more days, McMahon said.
“Crews are working now to setup a bypass so they can completely replace the pipe in this area. Crews are working as fast as they can, but this replacement will likely take a few days,” McMahon said.
The advisory warns people and their pets to avoid any contact with the stream.
“The public is advised to stay away from the affected water and to keep children and pets away until further notice, to eliminate the risk of exposure to raw sewage in the stream. People should not fish in the stream or have any contact with the water — including wading or swimming — until further notice from the County,” according to the advisory.
The county decided to replace the entire pipe in Donaldson Run now instead of later, as planned, because of the short period of time between the three leaks, she said.
“Replacing the pipe is the best way to prevent future spills,” McMahon said. “Arlington also has sanitary sewer maintenance programs including flushing, TV camera inspection and re-lining efforts.”
The breaks in the pipe were all the result of the casing around it shifting from water erosion, which is common in older pipes like many in Arlington, she said.
“Sanitary sewer lines are common in stream valleys (the lowest point of the stream) and sanitary sewer breaks are common in urban communities like Arlington, which have older pipes and infrastructure,” McMahon noted.
When a leak happens, the county will allow nature to flush out the sewage over time. This usually takes about three to five days. The county does not consider flushing streams out with chlorine — which kills everything in the stream — to be an option, McMahon said.
“Many Arlington streams are in County parks where residents are free to walk along the stream valleys, but the stream water can contain microorganisms that can make people sick, regardless of the stream location,” McMahon said.
In order to stay safe around stream water, even uncontaminated water, residents should always wash hands after touching the water, avoid getting water in their mouths or eyes, only wade in the water instead of swimming or bathing and never drink the stream water, McMahon said.
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