D.C. knew of sewer problems cited in massive Bloomingdale flooding

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer

D.C. Water has known for years about problems with an antiquated sewer pipe serving a flood-prone section of the city, and residents who have been repeatedly victimized by those floods are questioning why the agency didn't act sooner.

"The solutions proposed by D.C. Water are ineffective when they've known since 2006 that Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park cannot handle a [severe] storm," LeDroit Park resident Russell Kinner told a D.C. Council committee on Tuesday.

Kinner and more than a dozen other residents testified at a hearing on two council bills that aim to find short-term solutions to the flooding problem, which has plagued the two Northeast neighborhoods this year. They have been hit four times this summer with sewer backups caused by severe rainstorms. The main culprit is the sewer line that serves those areas -- it was built in the late 1800s and is also tasked with serving a larger geographic area than other lines of its age.

In 2006, D.C. Water conducted a flood study of the Bloomingdale neighborhood that showed the neighborhood was prone to flooding because the sewer capacity was too low. According to D.C. Water, similar studies dating back to 1955 have identified "longstanding flooding issues in [the city's old] Northeast Boundary" along Florida Avenue.

D.C. Water has begun construction on a massive underground tunnel similar in size to a Metro tunnel that will run from Northeast, under the Anacostia River to the Blue Plains water treatment facility on D.C.'s southern tip. But that project, which will connect to existing sewer lines thereby increasing their ability to take in massive amounts of water in a short time, isn't slated to finish until 2025.

When asked why the agency delayed in seeking out more immediate solutions, agency Director George Hawkins, who took his post in 2009, told The Washington Examiner that there was no "quick fix" to the flooding problem.

He added that, while those neighborhoods had been prone to occasional flooding, the four events this year were unprecedented.

"In our assessment of the weather data there haven't been any going back to 1952 of this frequency," he said before the hearing.

After the first flooding events this summer, the agency assigned about a dozen engineers to look at a combination of options that would at least mitigate the sewer's capacity problems, Hawkins said. However those fixes are still a few years out.

In the meantime, homeowners on Tuesday said they have paid between $5,000 and $15,000 in damages or for equipment to prevent sewer backups in their homes. A bill that would refund some residents up to $3,000 doesn't go far enough, they said.

"Right now we're underwater both literally and financially," said Rhode Island Avenue resident Casey Torgusson.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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