July 11, 2012

Storm floods streets and basements of Bloomingdale

During torrential downpours the Bloomingdale neighborhood experiences flooding. Yesterday evening’s storm flooded numerous Bloomindale basements and the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, T Street, and First Street NW.

The Boundary Stone restaurant (116 Rhode Island Avenue NW) posted a photo of a flooded Rhode Island Avenue NW.

Why did this section of the street flood? DC Water, which runs the water pipes, sewers, and storm drains, blames the lack of pipe capacity in Bloomingdale.

A closer look at the 1861 Boschke map of the District of Columbia reveals that the northern reaches of Tiber Creek flowed right through Bloomingdale. In fact the creek flowed right where Rhode Island Avenue flooded at T Street NW.

Boschke map with modern streets superimposed

Whether the creek still flows underground in this location is something I will leave to experts. However, creeks, like all water, flow to the lowest point on the land. The creek’s former presence at this location suggests that the terrain slopes downward on all sides, directing rainwater to this critical flood point.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) was on the scene and DC Water has promised to brief him soon on their Bloomingdale flood solution, which they say is on the way. Though this degree of flooding is rare, Bloomingdale residents will surely welcome and demand a permanent fix.

Categories: Environment, History, Safety & Order
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14 Replies

  1. I live in Ledroit Park on the border of Bloomingdale and Shaw, and everyone on Florida Avenue from 5th to 6th street had their basements flood because of the city water and sewage system.
    Water and sewage came up through the drains both outside and inside people’s basement homes.
    It was so bad that the fire department had to come.
    We have been dealing with this for at least 3 years since I have been a home owner on the corner of Florida Avenue and 6th Street on the Ledroit Park side.
    My home has flooded a total of 3 times in a 3 year period, causing major damage to my condo.
    We need a solution to this problem, and now!

    Jared Moffett - July 11, 2012 @ 1:00 am
  2. Neighbors,

    We’ve received a number of phone calls, tweets and email inquiries from Bloomingdale, LeDroit and Eckington customers who faced flooding last night. We’re so sorry to hear this has happened, and want to provide some background information as well as next steps.

    The sewer system under this part of the District was installed generations ago by the federal government. At the time, populations were smaller, rains were likely lighter, and people weren’t commonly living in basements. The system was not designed to handle the volume it handles today. We inherited this system and are working to upgrade it, but this is not a fast, simple or inexpensive process.

    We do clean every catch basin in the District once a year, and we come through flood-prone areas to do more cleaning every time a big storm is predicted. This one was not part of any weather forecast. The volume of rain in such a short period would overwhelm many catch basins as well.

    The best short-term solution is a backflow preventer, which a licensed plumber can install. The long-term solution is enlarging the capacity of the sewer system, which will come as part of our Clean Rivers Project. It is a 20-year, $2.6 billion effort to build 13 miles of tunnels, which will capture stormwater and sewage and send them to our Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The tunnel will start at Blue Plains and is under construction now. The last segment will make its way from RFK Stadium to Gallaudet University and will relieve the historic flooding problems in Bloomingdale, Eckington and Edgewood.

    More details are here: http://www.dcwater.com/workzones/projects/anacostia_river_information_sheet.cfm. Customers with questions can feel free to email us at twitter@dcwater.com or call (202) 612-3400 anytime.

    DC Water
    Office of External Affairs

    DC Water - July 11, 2012 @ 8:36 am
  3. I don’t think I would really refer to this flooding as “rare.” I lived in a basement apartment near 1st and Adams for 1 year from September 2005 – August 2006. In that time I was flooded twice, first in September/ October then again in June. Every time it happens it gets referred to as historic or rare. How many times does it have to happen before it is typical?

    Nicole - July 11, 2012 @ 11:30 am
  4. Just north of Bloomingdale is the McMillan reservoir. Is there a way to FOIA a request for releases of water into the DC sewer system? I can recall a few years back seeing several dead fish on the 100 Block of U Street, NW in one of the many rare and historic floods we have experienced. I can’t imagine the US ACOE not being somehow culpable.

    I understand that moving large quantities of water is difficult, however, city planning and zoning should mandate new construction to include cisterns and more permeability of the hardscpaes. I hope this will be brought up when discussions of the McMillan development happens or doesn’t happen.

    in the meantime, this could help: http://www.tmhardware.com/Door-Flood-Barrier-Shield.html

    DCDude - July 11, 2012 @ 12:19 pm
  5. Thank you for advising us to put in a backflow preventer at huge expense which will only make things worse for the neighboring houses – very constructive. I appreciate that the overall system upgrade is expensive and a long term prospect but the lack of any attention to this area in the short term given the known problems is unacceptable.

    Would love to see the evidence that “rains were likely lighter” a few decades ago.

    Someone please hold DCWASA responsible for fixing this problem – how many incidents is it going to take?

    Flooded Neighbor - July 11, 2012 @ 12:21 pm
  6. We had some flooding last night, as well, on the north side of the Unit block of S St. NW. Ours was relatively minor compared to the photos from Boundary Stone, but still may necessitate replacing rugs and carpeting. We were monitoring the storm drains both at the front and back entrance to the basement apartment and, at one point, water just stopped moving through the pipes. Sounds like the capacity was to blame (no visible clogs, once the underground drains cleared, our drains quickly moved water).

    I have also heard that this is a fairly regular occurrence, but thought that some capacity had been added to storm drains in recent years.

    Megan - July 11, 2012 @ 12:24 pm
  7. This is not rare, it happens at least once if not twice a year.
    Backflow preventors will not help if the manholes in the street on Florida Avenue and external drains to our home are forming geyers.
    Also, our street does not have enough street sewer basins.
    We have all taken pictures of the damages and issues.
    If you notice today street crews were jack hammering the street because of the unworthy sewer system.
    I have contacted the Office of the Mayor, DC Water and Sewer Authority, the Washington Post, State Farm Insurance, and my lawyer about this issue.

    Jared Moffett - July 11, 2012 @ 1:05 pm
  8. There will be a civic meeting on Monday starting at 7:00pm with DC water and various other advocates to discuss the following in Bloomindale, LeDroit Park, Shaw, and etc.
    Contact information is below:
    St. George’s Episcopal Church is located at:
    160 U Street, N.W.
    Washington, DC 20001
    Phone: 202-387-6421

    Please come out and attend, get your voice heard, and demand soluations now, not a 20 year project.

    Jared Moffett - July 11, 2012 @ 2:57 pm
  9. @Flooded Neighbor: We understand your frustration and are sorry to hear that your basement flooded. Those of us who are homeowners can sympathize with the sleeplessness and anxiety this causes. However, we are the one agency that has dedicated resources to helping resolve this problem in your neighborhood and has in fact taken responsibility for doing so.

    Backflow preventers work, as we hear often from our customers who have installed them. An extensive study we commissioned in 2006 from an engineering firm that works with water and sewer districts around the world recommends this as the top solution for an individual property owner.

    To answer your question about storms: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/full-report/regional-climate-change-impacts/northeast

    To answer your question about the attention we’ve given the area in the short term, we have done a tremendous amount of work on Flagler Place, U and Thomas Streets after a thorough investigation and clean catch basins in Bloomingdale perhaps more often than in any other neighborhood.

    We look forward to answering any other questions from your or your neighbors, and plan to attend Monday’s Bloomingdale Civic Association meeting as well.

    DC Water

    DC Water - July 11, 2012 @ 3:04 pm
  10. Well we have a back flow diverter which cost about $3,800. It did help some but the thing is if you have a drain at the back of your house it is not going to totally fix the problem. Reason being the water from that drain can’t get out to the sewer line because the diverter is closed. It is better though that we at least were not dealing with actual sewer back up. So just to tell everyone to go out and do this is not really a very well thought out suggestion. If you guys would at least keep the drains cleaned it would help.Plus if we all get the diverter what eventually will happen?

    David Dickerson - July 11, 2012 @ 10:17 pm
  11. I contacted the Washington Post yesterday about the LeDroit Park and Bloomindale flood problems, and they ran a story…see it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/raw-sewage-floods-neighborhood-after-rain/2012/07/11/gJQARRKMeW_story.html

    Jared Moffett - July 12, 2012 @ 10:02 am
  12. Exactly, David. There’s a back flow at my residence on Randolph Pl, and it still flooded. Granted, it was not nearly as bad as many of the other cases around the neighborhood, so it DID help, but water still covered the basement with water, debris from trees, etc.

    I’ll be attending the meeting on Monday.

    Nathan - July 13, 2012 @ 3:22 pm
  13. The bottom line is that DC Water has failed to address the constant severe flooding that’s the direct result of its low-capacity sewage system. DC Water has allowed this to continue for decades without a solution. And on top of DC Water’s failure in trying to actually arrive at a solution, DC Water has the audacity to think that cleaning out the sewer drains ONCE A YEAR is going to help matters that much? Council needs to step in to monitor this.

    Linwood Norman - August 2, 2012 @ 7:59 pm
  14. Yeah, horror movies did well…what else came out this weekend? If you want “family films” to do well, someone’s going to have to release something that isn’t as totally unappealing as “Shorts.”

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