Norwalk Council considers flooding issues

Jefferson Elementary School, as seen through a windshield during a heavy rainfall on June 28.

Updated, Tuesday: Link to DEEP map added. Updated, 7:19 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – There’s a 100-year-storm happening every two weeks, it seems, Common Council Public Works Committee Chair John Igneri said recently.

Igneri and other members of the Common Council Public Works Committee were fielding complaints from Norwalkers who are chronically hard-hit by flooding, residents of the Friendly Pond area.  The committee also touched on flooding issues for all of Norwalk.

The sewer system is built to handle 90 million gallons a day, with a usual flow of 13 million gallons, Igneri said.  On Sept. 25, 105 million gallons flowed through and, “the system was pushed to the maximum that day and it’s unfortunate, a lot of people were flooded, we’ve gotten a lot of complaints.”

The Department of Public Works is doing the best with the resources it has, DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns said, pointing to an unfunded state mandate and a 2018-19 capital budget request that did not get funding.

Burns was referring to the “MS4 General Permit,” otherwise known as the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP’s) General Permit for the Discharge of Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.

New regulations became effective on July 1 and Norwalk hasn’t taken steps to meet the requirements.

The Department of Public Works requested $836,000 in the 2018-19 capital budget for stormwater quality management. Mayor Harry Rilling recommended a $100,000 expenditure; the Common Council nixed that, authorizing “0”, according to the capital budget document provided by the Finance Department.

DPW requested $836,000 in 2018-19, $552,000 in 2019-20, $358,000 in 2020-21 and $342,000 in 2021-22.

Rilling recommended $100,000 per year through 2022-23.

“The City owns three (3) ‘vacuum’ trucks to clean accumulated materials from storm drain pipes and catch basins,” the DPW request states. “There are approximately 10,000 City-owned catch basins. DPW crews clean/inspect approximately 1,360 catch basins annually in addition to other responsibilities.”

Mayor Harry Rilling on Sunday announced that he is seeking a $1 million special appropriation from the general fund balance, also known as the “Rainy Day Fund,” to deal with flooding.

“We know based on historical data that some areas in Norwalk need to be addressed first, so that is where we will start,” he wrote.

NancyOnNorwalk emailed Rilling and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King on Monday and asked how the $1 million would be spent.

King didn’t answer that question, but said climate change is causing problems.

“The entire way that the wastewater system works will look different in the future,” she said. “I am not saying that we are changing that today but if you look at what is happening all around the state, this isn’t an issue of bad infrastructure in one or two places and towns, this is an issue of if our region is going to continue to get this type of rain, we’re going to need to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”


The new MS4 permit

“The City has done a good job with its MS4 program over the years, however, the new modified MS4 General Permit has many conditions that the City does not have the resources or the budget to maintain compliance with the permit,” Supervising Environmental Engineer Ralph Kolb wrote as part of the DPW capital budget request.  Kolb outlined the State’s “Six Minimum Control Measures”:

  1. Public Education and Outreach
  2. Public Involvement /Participation
  3. Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE)
  4. Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control
  5. Post-Construction Stormwater Management in New Development and Redevelopment
  6. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations


After several discussions, the City authorized Environmental Partners Group (EPG) to analyze how much is needed to meet the requirements of the new MS4 permit.  EPG estimated $1.8 million would need to be spent over five years without including operation and maintenance costs, Kolb wrote.

The DPW request was built on that budget.

As an example of new requirements that DPW does not have the resources to meet, Kolb said that City Streets and parking lots need to be swept at least once a year. Catch basins should be no more than half full at any time, and all of them should be inspected and cleaned out within three years, he wrote.  Outside contractors are needed at a cost of $200,000 every year.



Unusual rainfall means wastewater overflows

Burns on Oct. 2 told Council members that on Sept. 25 there were 66 complaints to the customer service center about flooding, and only one came from the Friendly Pond area residents who were there to pressure the Council for help.

A map showing the location of complaints about flooding on Sept. 25.

In addition to the residential problems, 15 manhole covers blew off and had to be replaced, she said. The City’s rain gauge measured 5.34 inches of rain, which followed a very bad storm on June 28, in which 2.35 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes, she said.  The two storms were “very different storms as far as hydrology goes,” Burns noted.

“The wastewater plant normally would only operate five pumps with one as spare, but the sixth pump came on and the tanks aren’t sized to handle that flow,” she said, showing a video of fluids coming over the side of a tank.

An online DEEP bypass map shows that Norwalk’s wastewater treatment plant released more than 1 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Sound on Sept. 25. A release of more than 1 million gallons of untreated sewage was also reported on June 28 and between 1,000 and 5,000 gallons were released Thursday and Friday, when, according to the Health Department, 3.68 inches fell. There was also a release of more than 1 million gallons of untreated sewage on March 2, when the Health Department shows 2 inches of rain fell.


Buying out residents?

“Imagine having 2-year-old in your family room, and one inch of rain falls and the water comes in, and your 2-year-old is sitting there playing, and the water just comes in on your son,” Karima Daniel said to the Council on Oct 2, explaining that her family bought a Surrey Road house 2.5 years ago and no one told them anything about flooding issues there.

The problems at Luigi Dacunto’s Saddle Road residence have existed the entire time he’s lived there, he said.  The City’s website shows that Dacunto bought the home in 1994.

“We understand our area is a soft area. It probably would never have been built on today but the city did provide permits for a builder to build, the sins of the past are now yours,” Dacunto said.

Water used to leave in 45 minutes but it takes four hours now.  Engineering firm Milone and McBroom did a study and recommended improvements but “they decided they couldn’t do it,” he said.

The Common Council in March 2016 authorized $637,000 for the “Honeysuckle-Daphne Diversion,” an attempt to help residents the Honeysuckle Drive, Daphne Drive and Friendly Road area. This was in addition to other money that had already been allocated for what Burns in 2015 estimated was a $1.5 million project.

“It needs a whole diversion,” and the City tried a $300,000 band-aid, “a marginal fix to begin,” Senior Civil Engineer Paul Sotnik said.  He explained that everyone knew it was “iffy” and “even if everything had worked perfect with the two storms we just had it would not have worked.”

The 2014 study missed a lot of things, things you wouldn’t know without digging up the streets, Burns said.

Friendly Pond has been dredged and the area is a swamp and a wetland, which never would have been approved for building on today, Sotnik said.  The study talked about replacing a half-mile of pipe but there’s almost no vertical clearance, meaning that the pipes are nearly “dead flat,” with not much of an incline to help move water.

Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) asked for an estimate of the money it would take to fix the problem.

“There is second option here that I know nobody is going to want to hear,” he said, suggesting that it might be less expensive to buy the homes.

A member of the audience said 30 homes are affected. Dacunto’s home is appraised at $468,110; Daniel bought hers for $465,000.

“The city may need to put an offer on the table and make it a wetland,” Hempstead said. “… It is an economic decision at some point but we can’t keep going on and saying, ‘We can’t fix it because.’”


David T McCarthy October 16, 2018 at 9:29 am

Utter mismanagement in allocating funds. The study done a few years ago had 5 or 6 steps that should have been taken to alleviate the flooding issues around Saddle/Surrey, but they were never taken after Mayor Rilling unceremoniously fired Hal Alvord. Shame.

The MS4 Permit may be unfunded, but it is a regular process that isn’t surprising anyone, so i am a bit confused. It seems there were a few years where the rains weren’t as bad as they were in 2014/5 and so this issue lost focus.

Piberman October 16, 2018 at 10:16 am

And where are the recommendations of the engineering consultants ? And alternative cost benfits proposals ? Sounds just like the Mayor’s $15 million Innovation Project. Come up with the monies and we’ll find a way to spend them. Just following best modern management practice !

Teacher October 16, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Rainy Day funding for flooding problems, BOE demanding a huge spike in their budget, the funding of construction projects with multi million dollar gaps, this is crazy. At some point we all need to say STOP! We should re-balance our priorities and stop robbing peter to pay paul.

Piberman October 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Will Norwalk’s elected leaders ever consider a harbor Flood Gate similar to one built in Stamford many decades ago ? Solving the City’s flooding may await for a new generation of civic ‘leaders”.

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