By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
I read several reports each week involving flooding, sinkholes, and soil subsidence caused by inadequate or failing storm water management systems. And every time I post one of these reports on social media, or feature the topic on my blog, I receive several private messages from homeowners with similar complaints across the U.S.
Several decades ago, as common interest communities were in the planning stages, local governments decided it was a good idea to divvy up responsibility for storm drainage to each individual subdivision or condo complex. So developers were expected to build storm water infrastructure, and public officials responsible for public works or water management functions were supposed to make sure that, as each new neighborhood was developed, it wouldn’t cause downstream flooding or erosion, or dump contaminated storm runoff into water shed area.
In many cases, private communities governed by voluntary – and later mandatory – associations were expected to maintain swales, culverts, ponds and lakes, dry basins, creek beds, catch basins, and related working parts of a storm water system. But here’s the problem. The vast majority of private citizens volunteering to serve on their HOA boards don’t possess specialized knowledge to manage these complex systems.
In most cases, a specially trained engineer worked with a team of hydrologists and environmental specialists to design the system in the first place.
Some of these plans have been effective. Others – not so much.
And as new neighborhoods have been developed, and housing became more densely packed, sometimes storm water drainage in more mature communities has been adversely impacted.
Over the decades, there has been precious little public oversight at the local level. HOA boards and managers have lacked any kind of direction as to how to properly monitor and maintain the flow of storm water. In the vast majority of cases, these communities remain woefully underfunded to make necessary repairs and upgrades, and, because maintenance tends to be deferred or nonexistent, the systems have failed prematurely, causing costly property damage.
In other cases, the County or city is at least partially responsible for maintenance of storm water components, but elected officials claim there is no money in the budget to deal with a myriad of storm water management problems. And so citizen complaints fall on deaf ears.
So none of the stories I am sharing today come as a surprise.
For example, as homeowners begin to complain about problems involving storm water management, the HOA often fails to respond.
In Louisiana, the HOA and developer of Spanish Lakes disagree over who is responsible to stop storm water lake banks from eroding at an alarming rate.
Land eroding around lake, no one taking responsibility (LA)
February 27, 2017 5:06 PM in News Source: WBRZ By: Brittany Weiss
ST. GABRIEL – Some people are worried their homes are going to be washed away. Backyards are eroding into a neighborhood lake and no one is taking responsibility.
Some homeowners say they bought in Spanish Lakes because it’s quiet and far enough away from traffic gridlock in Baton Rouge.
“It’s a beautiful area,” said Sean Sanders.
Tucked away in the St. Gabriel neighborhood is a lake, which many homes back up to. Sanders has lived on that lake for over four years and says during that time he’s seen his land, slip away.
“You can clearly see the land is falling in right there,” he said.
Around his piece of paradise, land is eroding. It’s breaking off piece by piece and washing into the lake behind his house. Near the end of July, Sanders says he put stakes in the ground marking the end of the property. Today, those stakes mark where about a foot of land has washed away since then. In some areas, up to ten feet of property has washed away into the lake.
Read more (VIDEO):
In California, the banks of a creek have become unstable, forming dangerous cliffs. Orange County says this particular problem is not a priority right now. Apparently they have bigger problems…
Aliso Creek banks in Lake Forest losing ground after storms
Feb. 22, 2017 Updated 3:24 p.m.
LAKE FOREST – John Pherrin approached the western bank of Aliso Creek near his home in the Woodside neighborhood and noted the changes.
Trees and pieces of concrete had piled into the creek and slopes on both sides had eroded over the past two months, as storm after storm battered the region.
Pherrin is concerned about the environmental integrity of the creek, but said Orange County Public Works, the agency responsible for its upkeep, doesn’t seem to share his views.
“The attitude is that this is minor compared to what else (they’re) dealing with,” Pherrin, president of the Woodside Homeowners Association, said last week.
O.C. Public Works resurfaced the slopes along the creek about two years ago, officials said. But now the slopes near Pherrin’s neighborhood and along the Creekside neighborhood just north have eroded, in some cases leaving a straight drop.
Here’s another report from Louisiana. In this case the HOA and Public Works have been back and forth with the homeowner for over a year, regarding a sinkhole caused by a leak in a storm pipe.
Multiple calls to fix growing sinkhole gone unanswered
February 23, 2017 5:52 PM in News Source: WBRZ By: Brittany Weis
DENHAM SPRINGS – There’s a sinkhole in Richard Bigelow’s backyard that’s been growing since April. He says he’s given the parish plenty of opportunities to fix the problem but it has not.
Bigelow’s wife is an active gardener. Next to their budding vegetables is a sinkhole that opened up months ago.
“It’s kind of scary,” he said.
It started out as a small hole that’s grown over time. Inside the hole is a white pipe that carries storm water to a pond behind Bigelow’s home.
“There’s a leak somewhere,” he said.
At first, Bigelow called the Homeowner’s Association in the Arbor Walk subdivision for help. The HOA filled in the hole with sand, but two rains later and the sand washed away. A couple weeks later he called the City-Parish and the Department of Public Works agreed the problem needed to be fixed.
Read more (Video):
In Arizona, Maricopa County acknowledges that hundreds of homes remain at risk for flooding, but lament that there is no money to tackle flood control. Communication with HOA leaders has been limited, but I sense an imminent proposal for a tax increase.
Money remains the big challenge in addressing Ahwatukee flood hazards
By Paul Maryniak, AFN Executive Editor Mar 1, 2017
Maricopa County flood control experts have proposed over $1 million worth of drainage improvements to seven Ahwatukee sites where serious flooding could cause more than an estimated $2.4 million in damage to homes and businesses.
But when those fixes might be made – and where the money would come from – are anybody’s guess.
The proposed improvements were outlined on Monday during a presentation to the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee by Valerie Swick, project manager for the county Flood Control District, who has been heading up a $1.2 million, two-year study.
Swick stressed that most of Ahwatukee was protected from a large flooding threat.
Nonetheless, the study determined that more than 492 homes and buildings in Ahwatukee would sustain damage exceeding $5 million in a 100-year flood.
In Illinois, the City of Edwardsville is working with an HOA on a project to dredge Dunlap Lake. Most of the cost is to be covered by members of the HOA.
Patton proposes funding plan for Dunlap Lake dredging
Cody King Updated 8:53 am, Friday, February 17, 2017
The dredging project for Dunlap Lake has a new proposal on the table. Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton approached the Dunlap Lake Homeowners Association at their annual meeting at the Edwardsville Moose Lodge Thursday night in an effort to gather support for the estimated $4.5 million project.
Patton proposed a partnership with the City of Edwardsville and Dunlap Lake property owners, proposing that the city puts forward an estimated $400,000 toward the project and the 355 lots on Dunlap Lake form an SSA (Special Service Area) and contribute $12,600 each (without interest) through an SSA property tax over a 20-year period. A second option Patton offered for property owners was a $15,000 buy-out to lessen interest rates on the funds. However, the proposal can only go forward with Council approval.
Patton said the Dunlap Lake Homeowners Association already had a vote for an SSA and the majority were in favor.
“You had a vote in August of 2016 and that vote was about a $4.5 million project and whether it should be funded with the creation of an SSA — Special Service Area. There were 74 percent votes cast; 61 percent were in favor and 39 percent against. The law actually says that if it’s 51 percent in favor, that’s enough for the Council of that community to go ahead and approve an SSA,” Patton said. “My goal here tonight is to bump that 61 percent up by 14 percent. I think if we can get an agreement between 75 percent of you, that would be a number that I could go back to the Council and propose that we support this project and participate in this project.”
The pattern of dysfunction continues because storm water management is no longer assumed to be a matter of public interest. Instead, we seem to be stuck in the mindset that each individual neighborhood should be financially responsible for its own little piece of the water management puzzle. It makes no sense, because very often, water flows through many different neighborhoods on its way to rivers, natural lakes, oceans, and reservoirs. Dividing up management and costs in this manner ignores the benefits of economies of scale.
Everyone wants and needs effective storm water management, but nobody wants to do the actual work, and most seem reluctant to pay for it.