Dear PoPville – Flooding Hurting Shaw Residents Too

Dear PoPville,

Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park have been getting a lot of attention for their flooding, and deservedly so, but the problem with the antiquated sewer systems goes beyond just there.

I live about a mile to the west in Shaw, and here the issue is as much with large condo buildings as it is with English basements. My building (The Rhapsody at Florida and Vermont) just had its second flood of the ground level units this summer. (It’s also the third in two years.) This one was particularly devastating, with nearly every unit on the ground floor affected. Other buildings nearby have also had multiple, destructive incidents. The ground level of the Floridian had a sewer backup on Sunday as well (it was mentioned on NBC 4). And the Beauregard at 11th and V has had multiple floodings of its garage this summer.

Much as in Bloomingdale, the sewer and drainage systems can’t handle the additional wastewater generated by a denser population in these areas. Yet the new systems in these buildings were built to code, and apparently signed off on by city inspectors.

In any case, it’s nearly impossible to sue DC Water for such instances. They’ve basically got to admit their own negligence before you can sue them. And it’s unclear how their backflow preventer rebates will apply to large buildings.

Anyone else outside of Bloomingdale/Ledroit been affected by recent flooding?

38 Comment

  • lots of reasons why flooding may be occurring… and some of them are the responsibility of the homeowner/management company. if you live in a large building the first stop should be your management company. the downspouts may not be removing water properly from the roof or elsewhere on the property (hard to tell from the photo.. but it doesn’t look like sewage). If it looks/smells like sewage… then DC Water would need to get involved.

    • This whole area is getting sewage backups in the big rains. Up and out of the toilets and tubs on the lowest level. Definitely brownish water, at least in my building.
      The rainwater is another issue, as it collects as it comes down the hills to the north, and doesnt get picked up by [clogged] drains.

    • Believe me – it’s sewage. My husband had the unenviable duty of cleaning up the tub.

    • brookland_rez

      Seems to me that all the affected residents should be able to file a class action lawsuit against DC Water. I’m no lawyer, but perhaps the lawyers on here can better advise what rights people have.

      • um, dc water doesn’t have any money beyond what we pay it.

        raising costs for utilities by suing them, refusing to pay your bill, etc is so comically ignorant it’s hard to believe anyone would be so naive as to suggest it.

        where do you think dc water gets the money it needs to build tunnels and keep them clean? um, your utility bill, obviously. Its not like some greedy mitt romney type is making his billions off of your water bill.

        • When it becomes the problem of the rest of the City in form of more monies paid, then we get on our Councilmembers and the Mayor, they in turn get on DC Water and the problem gets fixed.

          There is definitely a temporary fix for these issues, but nobody except the residents seems to give a fuck. So yeah, more money coming out of your pocket so you get involved? that’s a very good thing.

  • The flooding is not due to population growth. It’s due to the intensity of the storms, and a long standing flaw in the stormwater capacity, and the basic topography. Even if no one in the area used their tap for anything, those areas would be at risk for flooding when you get 4 inches in 1-2 hours.

    The DC historical society has maps showing streams in that area, and I think once you get that much volume of rainwater, it follows its historical path. Look at these stream patterns.

    BTW, my basement flooded too.

    • +1 to this. If you get 4 inches of rain in a few hours, you’re going to get a flood somewhere at the bottom of a hill….which is where a lot of this flooding is occuring.

      • I am not sure how most people here do not blame additional development as one of the causes for this. If you are adding more population there is much more water usage that has to share the same pipes as the run off from these kind of storms – there is only some much volume these pipes can handle. I know there were problems before but it seems to me just by looking at the history that these events have been happening more often in the last several years. Yes the problem will probably be solved once the new pipelines are installed but unfortunately that is not going to happen soon.

        In addition to this I am not sure how many people agree that in the last 2-3 years the storm events have definitely been more “violent” as in an insane amount of rain in a short amount of time – global warming I am sure – and this of course does not help, if the rain was falling at a slower rate the damage would probably not be as much.

        Sorry to all of those who are dealing with this- I have spend many sleepless nights monitoring my basement before it was waterproof! all my gray hair comes from that and worrying over it.

    • Per DCWater’s open letter to the community yesterday, regarding the intensity of the storms. People harping on them for blaming this on “10 year or 20 year storms” … well, DCWater might have a point there. This area flooded extensively in 2001, and likely many times before that. Small issues downstream can have building effects upstream. The initial system was never built to scale for these events, and they can’t go back in time 100+ years to do it right. The solution is probably going to be invasive and expensive for everybody (e.g. ripping and replacing some of the storm mains to add capacity and throughput). This won’t happen overnight. The quote:

      “Storm Information. Using information from the rain gauge at our nearby Bryant Street Pumping Station, DC Water engineers analyzed major rainfall events from December 2006 to the present. They focused on the intensity (amount of rainfall) and the duration. To summarize, the three storms of July 2012 were all in the top four most intense storms in the last six years, and two of the storms were in the top three for most accumulation in depth. In addition, the storms occurred within just nine days of each other. The ground surface was saturated after the first storms, leading to more runoff. On September 2, Bryant Street received 2.79 inches of rain in two hours. This would make it slightly more intense than the July 10 storm. While it is entirely possible that something within the sewer system made the flooding worse (and we continue to investigate this possibility), Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park have not received this level of rainfall in nearly six years if not longer. The engineering solutions we are exploring will account for the possibility of more frequent, more intense storms in the future.”

  • We came home to the Floridian and were greeted by some sewage in the tub. We are on the back side of the building, and so weren’t as affected by the backup as some of our neighbors. Still, something needs to be done – it’s obvious that the city needs a massive investment in stormwater runoff and sewage maintenance. Unfortunately, with all of the untaxable property here, getting the money to do it is going to be a long-term project at best and nearly impossible at worst.

  • ledroittiger

    Hey guys – don’t worry! Gray has set up a COMMISSION to deal with the flooding issues. Should be solved by year-end!

    • I hope he appoints his friends kids and grand kids and god children to the commission. Friends should always have a final say it what is what….and I hope they get paid a lot for the time they are investing in giving us their opinions.

    • I think members of the commission as well as management of DC Water should be required to live in and stay in until a resolution is reached the effected apartments/homes to get that first hand fact finding experience.

  • Personally, I don’t think that increased development is responsible for the flooding. While there have been large buildings constructed in these areas, the amount of impervious area (places that water can’t run into the ground, and the cause of water runoff) has remained about the same.

    While this is admittedly pure speculation only part, I think the flooding is being caused by DCWASA’s concern that discharge of stormwater and sewage during a storm would subject it to further lawsuits and fines under the Clean Water Act.

    For those of you who are unaware, the District has a combined stormwater and sewage system in most of the older parts of town. This means that the same pipes that carry the stormwater out also carry the sewage. This water gets treated before its released into the Rivers. However, when there is a heavy rain, the amount of stormwater exceeds WASA’s ability to treat the water. In the past, WASA dealt with this problem by bypassing the treatment and sending the water directly into the Rivers.

    The EPA sued WASA claiming that this practice violated the Clean Water Act. WASA settled the case and entered into an agreement. The agreement subjected WASA to fines and required it to take certain steps to minimize future problems, as well as monitoring of future violations. Here’s is information about the case and settlement:

    I think that WASA is afraid of its continuing liablity and knows that it will get caught if it continues to violate the act because of the monitoring provisions of the consent decree.

    So WASA does not allow the stormwater and sewage to bypass the system as quickly as it did in the past, and the system is more subject ot backups in low lying areas.

    As a result, if there is a lot of rain that falls in a hurry, the system gets backed up, and there is a lot of water that builds up in certain low lying areas because the existing system can’t carry it away fast enough. The pressure cause by all the water entering the system quickly when it is already filled at capacity is causing the sewage backups in houses, and the standing water.

    The other theory that makes sense to me has been discussed in the comments here previously: there’s been some sort of collapse or clogging in the local pipes and it needs to be repaired. Finding the problem may not be that easy, hence all the trucks in the area with video equipment looking through the pipes. I hope that this is the explanation because once the problem is found it can be repaired relatively quickly.

    • This strikes me as highly plausible.

    • Wasn’t there some sort of major clog in the sub-Connecticut Ave sewage mains several years ago? If I remember correctly there are two mains there and one was fully clogged with the other about 80% clogged. WASA cleared them out, but not before a bunch of flooding in and around the Dupont neighborhoods.

      • Oh, and I should have said best of luck to people who got flooded on Sunday.

        When I was in an English basement I got struck by a minor flood thanks to a failed sump pump. It was horrible. And that was just normal rain/ground water.

  • One experience with a sewage flood living in a basement apartment and it was the last time I ever will. I feel terrible for everyone, just ruins everything.

  • I didn’t suffer any flood damage, but the ceiling in my 2nd floor apt (of 4 floors) did cave in. That was a great site to come home to.

  • Its a fallacy to blame the flooding on new developments. All recent large developments in this area are LEED certified and most likely have 100% storm water management. They are actually better for the environment than the existing rowhouses or older apt buildings. The issue is underground not above the ground.

    • Storm Water Management is one small credit of LEED. A project can be LEED certifed Platinum and not address an ounce of the storm water that enters its site.
      I haven’t seen a single rain garden or bioswale anywhere in the area.

  • Yes! Our Columbia Heights/Parkview house flooded – the drain in the stairwell to our basement turned into a fountain of water, flooding the stairwell and the basement.

    Does the backflow prevention rebate apply to neighborhoods outside of Bloomingdale/Ledroit?

    • I’m having flooding issues in my house in Park View as well. It would be great to hear if we can get the rebate too.

  • These are all great questions. If you live outside of LeDroit Park or Bloomingdale and had flooding for the first time this year on Sunday, the problem may be related to the District’s sewer infrastructure, but it may not be. A sewer backup can also be caused by an obstruction in a building’s sewer lateral — which is the pipe that connects the building to the public sewer. We have also had reports of clogged backyard drains. A rainfall of the intensity and magnitude of last Sunday’s would make these problems more apparent.

    We have been in contact with the management of the Rhapsody and its condominium association, and are working to identify the source of the problems there.

    If you have had a sewer backup, please call our Command Center at (202) 612-3400 to report it. We will send a member of our sewer services team out to investigate.

    Our court-ordered consent decree with the federal government mandates a tunneling solution to deal with combined-sewer overflows. We call it the Clean Rivers Project, and it is under construction right now. We added a $600 million flood-control portion that will make its way into the Bloomingdale neighborhood by 2025. We are also working with the District Government via the Mayor’s task force to identify short-term solutions that DC Water and other agencies can implement.

    There is no truth to the assertion that we somehow keep combined sewer flow in the system longer than it needs to be, for reasons related to the Clean Water Act or otherwise. If the closed-circuit television inspections of the sewers in Bloomingdale and LeDroit reveal blockages, we will remove them. These inspections are about 1/3 complete and will be finished by the end of October.

    DC Water
    Office of External Affairs

    • DC WASA spokesman says: “There is no truth to the assertion that we somehow keep combined sewer flow in the system longer than it needs to be, for reasons related to the Clean Water Act or otherwise.”

      I hope that this statement is true, but why should I believe it without some sort of explanation and /or evidence?

    • “Our court-ordered consent decree with the federal government mandates a tunneling solution to deal with combined-sewer overflows. We call it the Clean Rivers Project, and it is under construction right now. We added a $600 million flood-control portion that will make its way into the Bloomingdale neighborhood by 2025. We are also working with the District Government via the Mayor’s task force to identify short-term solutions that DC Water and other agencies can implement.”

      I think it’s funny that DC Water says this so non-chalantly. The “by 2025” part does not make people feel like DC Water has a solution. Rather, it reminds them that they may get flooded for the next 13 years!

  • DC is the new Venice! So glad I live at the top of a high hill on the 4th floor.

  • Yeah, flooding sucks. But the examples in this post from Shaw are from individual large buildings having an issue, not entire neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Bloomingdale’s entire neighborhood floods and backs up. I’d wager a bet that the examples given here are due to the building’s plumbing or water systems.

    • Psmitty311

      This post is definitely not about isolated buildings. The fire department personnel that responded Sunday night said they saw flooding up and down Florida Ave and Vermont. Florida Ave between the Rhapsody and the Floridian was a river during the storm. While some places may not have experienced the same amount of damage, I can assure you that this affected everyone in that immediate area.

  • I’m at a rental building at 11th and U and all the apartments with basement level bedrooms (half the units of the bldg) flooded this last weekend. I talked with the emergency plumbers who were handling the clean-up and they said that brown water was coming out of the drains and laundry hookups.

    All the carpets had to be ripped out and the residents either relocated with friends or were sleeping in the living rooms on the upper level of their duplexes. A lot of people had damaged furniture. The management company said that they would be talking with the city about addressing the issue, but they don’t appear to be promising much and there’s definitely no compensation for anyone.

    Bldg mgmt requested DC Water to inspect the sewer lines, but they don’t expect to get a response. The DC Water spokesperson told mgmt that it was an isolated incident due to a freak downpour that overburdened the existing sewer system.

    Anyone living around U Street/Shaw/Bloomingdale should consider buying renters insurance immediately. Also, you need to specifically include (and pay extra for) damage related to sewer backups. When I went on the Geico website, it is a specific feature you need to add-on; it’s not normally included with most typical policies.

    Good luck everyone!

  • Columbia Heights (Irving/Sherman) here. Sunday was our FOURTH basement flood of the summer. That’s right, FOURTH. Three times in early July. Storm water comes up through our basement bathtub and basement porch drain. We weren’t the only ones affected on our back during the July episodes.

  • I love that people in DC go f*cking ballistic over something like the Uber mess, yet when DC Water (an otherwise competent agency) is f*cking up on such a grand scale? There’s no petitions, Jack Evans didn’t get thousands of letters and calls. There are some seriously messed up priorities around here.

    Oh, and to DC Water, I love y’all, but it is absolutely a LIE to say there aren’t temporary engineering fixes for this flooding. Those fixes might be ugly, they might be expensive, but they’re necessary and you’re not implementing them.

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