After years of dealing with watering restrictions, low lake levels and drought, Columbia County officials are no longer concerned about having too little water. Now the problem is just the opposite -- too much
This summer has seen little sunshine, but brought mostly storm clouds and sogginess.
“We’ve had nothing but rain since the beginning of June,” Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker said.
Torrential downpours last week caused yet another round of flash flooding, overwhelming creeks and failing drainage culverts.
“No stormwater system is designed for 3 or 4 inches in a half an hour,” Tucker said of the numerous flooding reports that usually come with the storms. “We have an outstanding system which is designed for normal weather events.”
But the trend of daily storms and heavy downpours isn’t normal. Tucker referred to the last month-and-a-half as the “100-year storms.” About 500 percent more than the average rainfall for Columbia County has been recorded this year, she said.
June was a record-setting month in the county with nearly 11 inches of rain, Tucker said. July has already brought more than 10 inches of rain to Columbia County and up to 15 in some areas.
“These are very unusual,” Tucker said. “To have constant rain every day from the beginning of June and we’re into July, this is dramatic.”
Tucker said the outlook for the near future is more of the same. “The bad news is that there is no good news.” The unchanging jet stream continues to bring storms to the area and the remnants of Tropical Storm Chantal are expected to bring more rain beginning today.
The county’s stormwater system is designed to handle 25-year storms, which equates to about the heaviest storm in the area in any given year, said Stormwater Utility Project Manager Jacques Palmer. That is about the same volume as 6.6 inches of rain, .25 inches of rain falling hourly for 24 consecutive hours.
“With all this rain, the ground is saturated,” Palmer said. “Since we’ve had rain every day for the last 45 days, as soon as it starts raining, it starts running off. It cannot absorb any more water.”
Ed Udell has had enough of the 100-year storms. A creek running next to his house rose over its banks during Wednesday’s downpour and sent about 4 inches of water into his home.
“It flooded my garden,” Udell said. “I’ve got some tomatoes gone now. They floated away.”
Udell’s had flood insurance on the home since it flooded the first time in October 1990. He and his wife, Lee, climbed out a window Wednesday because they know from experience that opening a door lets in floating debris.
Though water quickly subsided once the rain stopped, it left Udell a soaked house and a sinkhole where the culvert running under the road cracked.
“I’ve been on the county for years to fix this,” Udell said.
But the torrential rain is causing flash floods that are overwhelming and sometimes collapsing culverts, overflowing creeks and pools and flooding roadways.
“It’s causing a lot of problems,” Tucker said. “Too much rain is a massive problem.”
With the ground saturated, it doesn’t take much wind to blow trees over into homes and power lines.
Palmer said there’s not much the Stormwater Utility staff can do to prepare for the flooding, especially when it won’t stop raining, other than keeping a close eye on flood-prone and troublesome areas.
“Right now, we’re just trying to stay ahead of it,” Palmer said.