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Homeowners along streams can’t stop the rain, but they can help to lessen flooding risks by removing debris.
Monday, September 23, 2013
If your neighbors let their grass grow waist high, keep their garbage uncovered and invite rodents to take up residence, Roanoke officials would be all over them. With the public’s health and safety at risk, the notice would advise: Clean it up, pronto, or we’ll do it for you.
Not so with debris collecting in the 12 creeks running through Roanoke. Given the right storm, any of them could spill its banks and force flood water through nearby homes, just as Peters Creek did along Meadowbrook in July.
Many of the same conditions exist on the ground all over Roanoke to cause freakish, dangerous flooding. Homes built in floodways before regulations banned that unwise practice, coupled with streams that become cluttered with debris, whether tossed in by man or nature, are a recipe for disaster. During heavy rains, swiftly moving streams sweep up the debris and carry it along until it hits an obstruction or becomes too much. Then it dams, and backs up.
Though the potential for problems is widespread and immense, the risk could be lessened by diligent property owners who keep the creeks running through or near their land free of debris.
Local government can’t come through and sweep streams, like it does with streets. The waterways are regulated by the state, but private property owners adjacent to the streams are responsible for cleaning them, Assistant City Manager Sherman Stovall said. Without an easement, permission from a landowner or a public access point, the city can’t enter a stream. In theory, it could force property owners to keep their portion of the stream free of debris, just as it requires lawns to be maintained. In practice, without the right of entry, there isn’t a practical way to keep tabs on the waterways.
And yet the problem is one of public concern and safety.
The Meadowbrook flooding has prompted action. City council last week agreed to seek a nearly $1 million grant in order to purchase and raze some homes along Meadowbrook that were built in a floodway. And city staff plan to meet soon with homeowners along the creek in order to gain access to work on the channel so it presents less of a flood risk.
The work is just one of the many projects that are needed to tackle the water quantity and quality issues throughout the city. Next month, city council will host a public hearing in the next step of creating a storm water utility.
Property owners will be charged a sum based on the square-footage of improvements on their property that prevent the ground from soaking up rainwater. The capital raised by the fee will be used to tackle a list of projects, estimated today at $70 million.
But the burden isn’t for just the government to solve. Owners of property along streams play a role.
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