Water, Water Everywhere… What to do About Local Flooding?

flood3Many Scarsdale residents still are cleaning up after severe flooding from two weeks ago – discarding ruined belongings, calling in mold-prevention services, and researching waterproofing options for their basements. During significant rain events, similar to the soaker on September 25, French drains and sump pumps often aren’t enough to keep some homeowners’ properties dry, particularly if they’re located in one of Scarsdale’s flood plains.

The September storm was, according to Scarsdale Director of Public Works Benny Salanitro, “one of the top five or 10 events” during his tenure in the village, and greatly impacted the Drake-Edgewood area. While Scarsdale Village staff and emergency personnel are quite skilled in assisting residents during storms, they simply can’t stop the rain. So, the focus is how to improve storm water flow, better divert it from roads and property, and reduce overflow where possible.

Local flooding was discussed at the October 9, 2018 Board of Trustees meeting, where residents discussed their experience in the last storm and board members offered updates on what the village has been doing to address the issue.

Scarsdale Village Manager Steve Pappalardo began by explaining that the village has performed a numerous tests to identify local sanitary sewer line breaches, and spent hundreds of hours and $200,000 repairing them. He said, “All these efforts were performed toward the goal of reducing inflow and infiltration (between the sanitary sewer system and storm sewer system). Although they have helped to mitigate (flooding), we are still experiencing system surcharges during extreme rainfalls. We believe this is… the result of some (illicit) private connections that still exist as well as river water entering the county storm sewer system.”

One way to control flooding is to ensure adequate water flow in surrounding waterways, and keeping the Hutchinson River free of debris is important for Scarsdale. The river, which spans 10 miles, begins in the Edgewood area of Scarsdale and runs through sections of Eastchester and New Rochelle.

In the recent past debris, shrubs and plants have built up along the Hutchinson River’s banks, blocking water and causing buildups. Many of the homeowners along the river are responsible for maintaining riverbanks and beds on their lots, and removing any debris that obstructs water flow. However, quite a few do not. In addition, while each municipality has conducted manual clean ups of public property bordering the river, this activity has ceased after a homeowner sued New Rochelle, claiming property damage associated with one of its cleanup efforts.

Pappalardo said, “It’s obvious, at this point, that the Hutchinson River requires a much more aggressive cleaning and improvements.” To achieve this, last year, the three municipalities agreed to participate in the Hutchinson River Flood Mitigation Project. With $3.5 million in state and county grants, they plan to de-silt and widen the riverbed, and stabilize its banks, while assisting homeowners with cleanup. Pappalardo continued, “It’s a very complicated project… we’re going to need easements, rights of access from property owners… there’s going to be legal and survey work that will be necessary… you’ve (also) got multiple municipalities trying to make this happen.” He added that the work would include installing larger culverts through public roadways to improve storm water flow, and mitigate flooding and “nuisance” water backups that occur during storms. The municipalities are close to selecting an engineering firm to begin an analysis and provide cost estimates; three firms currently are being considered.

Pappalardo went on, “This is a different… than what we were looking at with the Bronx River and South Fox Meadow project. (In that project,) we had property upstream in Scarsdale to detain storm water and then meter flow out to the Bronx River when storms subsided. The Bronx River is the problem there; it can’t hold the water anymore… the water was backing up into our sewer systems and into our private properties.” He continued, “This project is the opposite; we’re going to enlarge culverts, clean out the bed and widen it in some places, and stabilize the banks, so that we can get the water out of Scarsdale as fast as possible, out of New Rochelle and into Eastchester because they have the receiving waters that can handle that flow... It’s the most complicated project that I’ve been on in all my years.”

Scarsdale Mayor Dan Hochvert then stated, “I’ve actually walked the Hutchinson River, and the neighbors on both sides are not caring for growth (which) extends over the river and blocks flow; it raises the level of the water before a rainfall, and it floods more quickly.” He continued, “I will see if we can’t ask the folks along the Scarsdale side to make sure that we don’t have growth… I also saw tons of debris, much of which has been thrown there by landscapers... So, there is some care that … won’t eliminate flooding, but will mitigate it. “

Scarsdale Village Trustee Carl Finger noted that Scarsdale was ahead of Eastchester and New Rochelle in recognizing the need for a coordinated effort to better manage the Hutchinson River, and that it took some time to “get everybody on the same page.” He said, “We’ve been on this project since I’ve been on the board… it’s important to us to do what we can and this is a good example of the village staff getting ahead of things… I’m glad to see that it’s moving forward, and I’m disappointed to hear that (residents) had the problems that I’m hearing about. The sooner we get this thing going, the sooner we can provide, at least, some relief to some of the people negatively affected by these events.”

Residents then discussed their experiences during the September storm and other rain events.

Dimah Yanovsky (Barry Road) began by sharing video of the sewer on his road bubbling up as the rains fell. “There’s a layer of three or four inches of water above that, so for (the water) to fountain up, you can imagine the pressure.” He went on, “We lived through Sandy, we’ve had multiple floods of the sewer system, but it’s becoming (commonplace) with every big rain… we live in Scarsdale, with a AAA-rating, a fantastic tax base and great property values… but this is sewage where our kids play. It’s a dead-end street with sewage… We live in this. I’m happy to see that we’re making progress and that something is happening with the river drainage… (Is) it possible… to somehow compel residents to clean up what they’re responsible for, in terms of the riverbank… Unless most people do it, it doesn’t really help.” Yanovsky concluded, “It’s awful that we have to lie through this… It’s a huge priority for everyone in town... Something more needs to be done.”

A resident from Eastwoods Lane followed and said, “We’ve had flooding since we moved in… and we’ve had lots of sewer water come in…We put in a shut off valve… that did stop the sewage… But… this last one was, really, the worst because it came so quickly and went into the basement; we had three feet of water in the basement… we had furniture in the basement… and that all went.” She continued to discuss other measures that she had to take to protect her home: “We had a French drain put in around the base (of the house), we had sheetrock replaced with a type of plastic paneling that doesn’t get mold and mildew, and… we have three sump pumps. It’s been tough to live with.” She also noted that she, like all Scarsdale residents, pays high taxes, and that her property assessment will not be reduced because her home is in a flood zone. Her husband added, “This has been going on a long time and someone’s got to do something about it.”

Finger responded, “I appreciate the folks coming and letting us know, because, although I’m aware that there is a flooding issue, I wasn’t aware of how severe it continues to be.“ Pappalardo said, “We appreciate what you’re living with and none of us are happy about it… There’s been an awful lot of work that’s been done but, ultimately, the solution is the project we’re talking about. We may have to readjust and think about doing some work… in the interim ... that project is not going to result in a shovel in the ground in a timeframe that you folks are going to be able to live with... We’ll see if there’s anything we can do out there before the weather turns… so that you don’t see what you saw last time around.”

Laura Halligan is a local writer, editor and marketing consultant. She is principal of Pinch Hit Prose and provides communications services to entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits.