It is a bright and sunny day outside, but storm water from rain the day before still runs in the gutters along Woodside Drive. When thunderstorms strike, a two- to three-inch current can pick up in the streets, residents say.
Ray Martin has been living in the northeast Columbia neighborhood for two years, and his basement has flooded about 30 times.
“We get a pretty strong rain, and it’s going to flood,” he said. “With the downpours we’ve been having, it’s been substantial.”
The city’s storm-water utility staff is working to fix the pockets of the community that continue to have flooding or drainage problems, and it has several projects scheduled for this summer. Updating the drainage system in Martin’s neighborhood is on the list of top projects, which also includes more immediate improvements at Rollins Road and Rothwell Drive, at Paris Road and Ann Street, and along Maryland Avenue.
A neighborhood meeting about the Woodside flooding is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday in front of 3507 Woodside. A contract is anticipated by December, with construction beginning next spring.
Ten years ago, voters approved creation of the storm-water utility along with an additional charge on their monthly utility bills. The utility has also received grants from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources — typically around $200,000, but the state budget crisis has stopped that funding.
Since the utility was created, the staff has completed nearly all its Priority One projects, which include house flooding.
“Our list had several dozen projects on it, and it’s taken us a while to work our way through those projects,” said Tom Wellman, a civil engineer for the city. “(Woodside) is one of the ones we’ve been working toward for a number of years.”
Causes for the flooding vary at each location. Wellman blames the “irresponsible” construction of houses below street level in some areas. Elsewhere, storm-sewer systems that were built years ago, when standards were not as strict, are now old, rusty and in need of repair. New development can also cause problems in some areas by adding to the strain on a system.
First on the list of summer projects is replacing undersized pipes and inlets near Rollins Road and Rothwell Drive. Workers have tried to coordinate that project with the extension of Rollins and the development of the downstream Westlawn subdivision.
“We are finalizing the plan, and a bid should be made sometime this summer,” said John Glascock, chief engineer.
Modifications made to the pipe and drain system years ago reduced flooding but failed to solve the problem, according to a city staff report.
“The drainage is way too small, and the water doesn’t have anywhere to go,” said resident Darren Klein. “Every time it rains there is a river beside my house.”
While most residents are pleased the improvements are coming, Bob Preston doesn’t want to see his yard torn up again. He says that he hasn’t had a problem since the new drain was installed.
“It’s just going to be a waste of money. They want to come in here and do it all over again. And it’s taxpayers’ money,” Preston said.
Wellman said storm-water projects sometimes must start in areas that have no problems. At the Rollins and Rothwell site, “we worked really hard here to limit the amount of work that we needed to do in the established yards,” he said.
Cost for the project is $176,000.
Another project expected to begin this year is along Ann Street and Paris Road in northeastern Columbia. The drainage area is about eight acres and consists of a church and residential lots.
“The street floods very severely in large storms. Since Paris is such a large roadway to the northeast, that made it seem more urgent to us,” said Wellman.
Proposed work involves adding inlets, replacing the pipe system and installing a drain that is bicycle friendly. Problems of rerouting traffic, gaining easements and working around telephone utility lines have slowed the process. Wellman hopes to complete the $67,000 project by the end of the year.
The storm-water staff also plans to install a new culvert along Maryland Avenue while improvements to the sanitary sewer system in the area are being done.
“We hope it’s done by the beginning of school, but we can’t guarantee it,” Glascock said.
The overall plan is for the system from Maryland Avenue to Kentucky Boulevard to eventually be replaced. The city wants to move the drainage system from under two buildings and relieve street flooding. That project, however, will not be completed for two to four years as the city waits for MU to redevelop housing nearby.
Residents support the project. “There is a long history of flooding at that spot,” said Warren Prost. “I’m glad the city is going to do what needs to be done.”
Cost for the summer work is estimated at $220,000, Wellman said.
Occasionally the city coordinates with the county on projects, and that will happen this July on Ludwick Boulevard. Although the area is technically outside the city, much of the drainage comes from Columbia, so the groups agreed to split the cost for design and construction. The project calls for installing larger culverts and regrading the road.
Other future projects include building a detention basin at Harmony Branch and working on a house at 505 Mary St., which the city bought after it determined that buying the house would be cheaper than upgrading the surrounding infrastructure.
Becky Ross, who lives on Woodside Drive next to Martin, is eager for her neighborhood project to begin.
“What is here now is out of date or was never really adequately prepared to handle the water it needs to handle,” she said.
Martin is getting tired of buying sand bags and having to shampoo his carpet. He said he and his family rent the house on a month-to-month basis and will most likely be gone by the time the construction begins.
“We don’t want to sign another lease because it’s been a pain in the butt with all the flooding. We like the property, but the way it floods has just been a nightmare,” he said.