Opinion: $1 million needed to reduce Norwalk flooding

Mayor Harry Rilling.

Rain, rain go away, come again another day.  Or, better yet, maybe a month or two from now.  The coastal location that makes Norwalk one of the most beautiful cities in the country also makes it one of the most prone to floods.  Depending on the tide, even a minor rain event can cause flooding in some areas of the city.  But recently, it has been something more.

No doubt, we need a break from the unprecedented rainfall that pounded our city and caused significant flooding issues and damage.  In just one week, we had nearly 10.5 inches of rain as monitored by the Norwalk Health Department Rain Gauge.  To put that in context, the historical rain totals in Norwalk for September are approximately 4.5 inches and in October roughly 3.9 inches, for a two month average of 8.4 inches.  Norwalk experienced more rain in just one week than it usually does over two full months.

Another way we analyze how much water is going through the city is looking toward the Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Typically, the Plant handles 13 million gallons per day.  However, during recent storms, more than 100 million gallons flowed through the Plant.  A lot of water has fallen in short bursts, and our systems cannot keep up.  The fact that we had so many rain events grouped so closely together meant there was no time for the ground to dry and absorb the water, and drainage systems were still processing previous storms.  Simply put, there is nowhere for the water to go.

The city’s infrastructure dates back decades, and was built on industry standards to withstand a “10-year storm.”  That term is used to categorize rainfall events and is calculated by looking at inches of rainfall per hour.  For Norwalk, a 10-year event is the equivalent of 1.8 inches of rain in 60 minutes.  These recent storms have dropped more than twice as much rain in similar or shorter time frames, thus classifying the events more like 100 or 200-year storms.

The city continues to use technology to inspect lines with cameras to look for blockages and clear debris that could be the cause of water backups or poor drainage.  The city maintains more than 12,000 catch basins, and hundreds of miles of pipes, so this remains a constant work in progress.  Pipes run under city streets across private and public property, so it’s not as simple as “rip it up and start over.”  That said, anytime we do a road repair, we ensure the project includes increasing the size of the pipes in the area to help improve the flow of water through the system.

However, more must be done to correct these issues.  That is why I am submitting a special appropriation request of $1 million to help reduce flooding in the city.  We know based on historical data that some areas in Norwalk need to be addressed first, so that is where we will start.

A partnership between residents and the city is the only way we will be able to address flooding promptly.  We need the public’s help.  I ask residents to please continue to call Customer Service at (203) 854-3200 to report issues.  Residents can also use the Customer Service smartphone app (available on iOS and Android) or online portal (bit.ly/NorwalkCAR) to submit a request.

These problems cannot be solved overnight, and I assure you that we take your feedback seriously.  We are doing everything we can to proactively address the causes of flooding in our city.


Lisa Brinton Thomson October 14, 2018 at 7:59 am

No one disputes the need to improve our sewer infrastructure in Norwalk. How do you intend to pay for it Mr. Mayor?

From the state as compensation for the Walk Bridge? Nope. That’s going to Lockwood Mathews Mansion and rebuilding the IMAX theater.

From development growth in the grand list? Nope. You want to give away taxpayer dollars for the ‘Innovation District.’

From savings from your recent reorganization? Nope. You just added another ~$1M layer of management.

From tax revenue from the mall? Nope. The city won’t realize its true property tax value for years. It’s bad enough Hartford gets all the sales tax revenues from neighboring and regional traffic that will ‘flood’ our streets shopping there and at all our ‘Big Box’ stores.

I could go on…

Please explain in your next oped how you intend to pay for it?

Milly October 14, 2018 at 10:15 am

The city needs yard waste pick ups. I had to make another trip down to the yard waste site and watched senior citizens down there dumping their bags. (While 2 workers stood by and watched – I’d like that job!) You can’t live in New England and only have 4 yard waste pick up weeks a year.

DrewT October 14, 2018 at 11:35 am

@Lisa Come On how do you think its going to be paid for?!!? He will do what all the Democrats like Bob Duff do and first blame everyone else for the problem. Then give HUGE Raises to people that have been on the job barely 2 years. After that which should take about a year right before the election next year, bill the Tax Payers of Norwalk Again, Again and Again…

EnoPride October 14, 2018 at 12:28 pm

“The city continues to use technology to inspect lines with cameras to look for blockages and clear debris that could be the cause of water backups or poor drainage. The city maintains more than 12,000 catch basins, and hundreds of miles of pipes, so this remains a constant work in progress.”

With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, the above part about the city maintaining catch basins is NOT TRUE, at least it is not true on my street. When the catch basins are full we residents end up cleaning them out because the city doesn’t clean them out on any kind of routine schedule of frequency. This is just flat out unacceptable, so it really is not accurate to highlight and generalize that this task is properly taken care of in an article you have written to the public.

When I called many years ago to inquire If there is a schedule for frequent declogging of catch basins, I was told that no, there wasn’t, and I was told that it is my responsibility to identify that the catch basins are filled up, and, that it is my responsibility to either clean them myself or call the city and alert them to have someone scheduled to clean them out. Really? With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, I am not a paid city worker, so I resent that I have to do part of these peoples’ job without being compensated for. Not to mention, I don’t need the anxiety or burden of having to call in to your city workers and make sure that they are going to come and do their job whenever heavy rainfall is predicted on the way. I would appreciate it if you could look into the mismanagement of how infrequently catch basins are being inspected, and fix the situation. My property has been damaged and items destroyed by water damage because the city is not doing it’s job on my street.

My entire back yard, garage, side yard, was flooded like a swimming pool with that massive deluge recently, and a stream was roaring down my driveway into the flooded street. Neighbors were helping me unplug the catch basins that had not been attended to by the City in forever in front of our homes. A resident took pictures of how terribly flooded everything became for the reasons that the basins were stuffed up and definitely worse was going on underground in the so called, monitored by underground camera, pipes. He sent the pics to Senator Duff, and only then, with a delay, DAYS LATER, did the city come out and suction everything out with their special vehicle. Just unacceptable. Please streamline the system and hold city workers accountable for their jobs, Mr. Mayor. Clearly, there is a management issue here.

Pibermanf October 14, 2018 at 12:31 pm

The lack of “competence” of Mayor Rilling’s “team” at City Hall dealing with the massive dislocation and cost effects of the Walk Bridge project costing tens and tens of millions of dollars and years of dislocation ought give pause to having the “City Hall team” deal with decades long flooding concerns. The larger issue is protecting the City from major storm surges in the harbor spreading through Downtown. City Hall has repeatedly rejected erecting Storm Gates as Stamford did several decades ago with considerable success. Even the City Hall “team” must know from watching the Weaether Channel that Sound waters are rising. So it takes some serious engineering studies on how to prevent future Downtown flooding.
And that means going outside City Hall to secure the requisite expertise.

If Mayor Rilling is looking for a million dollars why not reverse the embarrassing Reorg. Plan that will cost the City a million dollars over the next decade and bring no benefit to Norwalk citizens. We surely do not need more “Chiefs” and “Directors” at our overstuffed City Hall. Nor a glorious “Chief of Staff”.

Mayor Rilling’s million dollar proposal reminds us of his recent $15 million proposal for an Innovation District. Just give us the monies and we’ll figure out how to use the monies. So here’s a suggestion for our former Police Chief. Hire a major league engineering consulting firm to make various proposals to prevent current and projected Downtown flooding. Then present that plan for public review beyond the Common Council Rubber Stamp. And lets see what happens. And then present some plans for creating a Hurricane Flood Barrier like many cities up and down the East Coast have already done.

Rick October 14, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Raising streets in the flood zone tells us your ignoring what we see on water st tells me this was for the election and not for the city.

Mayor tell us what we see at the treatment plant your elves are slowly letting us know the city is in trouble, yet before the election our children in Hartford and Dc seem to have no bite with resolve on the issues.

Washington Village will only create more problems without the proper fix on the storm gates, oh right there is none that work effectively.

We are not buying what you just said its far from the truth its just another way of saying I got my money for what I wanted now lets pass the hat its time to come clean.

New building produces new work at the treatment plant the mall is still using porta potties your asking for too little.

What about the lost suit on the pumps at the treatment plant can you explain the expansion at the treatment plant in the parking lot? Portable frat tanks are for what Mr Mayor.

We wont need a dozen or so new officers at the mall? We do have Substation there going in correct we were offered one by your old friends at GGP now owned by the Canadians?

How can you single out one one million dollar expense when the the city needs to take care of many things?

If you don’t tell us whats really going on selling a million dollar project only tells Deering Grasso and Middlesex is gearing up for your plans.

Have you written this in expectations Norwalk is going to hire a met meteorologist?

You just let over 20 stalls washers and showers in one house on Quintard ave where our property values have shown your mistake on handling Firetree, .

You have new DPW or is the other mayor running that now, we are expecting a new DPW head soon?

That said, anytime we do a road repair, we ensure the project includes increasing the size of the pipes in the area to help improve the flow of water through the system.

yew Harry you did a fine job on Burritt Lincoln and the path to the private club near shorefront park , you took away parking spots made less places for runnoff to go and created more of a flood zone.You did not do what you said you did there ask anyone who lives here.

You just got the go ahead to advance Eversource where street flooding has increased making it harder to control. They get their work done our flooding increases , im not sure your getting it.

You should have had Josh write this he has less credibility you have more to lose.

Its like those who help fight firetree, they now have Duff Himes and murphy signs on their lawns and just realized they did nothing to stop a facility from opening this week.They were sold out by Democrats.We lost and what the city needs a million for that also we are told.

This million dollar gift for the contractors and the builders who cant build until your pie in the sky floats is obvious your not thinking this one thru.

Paul Lanning October 14, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Milly is right. What other town fails to pick up yard waste?

Norwalk’s lack of yard waste pickups causes hundreds of wasteful individual car trips to Smith St. every day. Moreover, the restricted dropoff hours (closed at 3 PM weekdays, 2:00 on Saturdays, no Sundays) prevent many working residents from using the site at all.

Meanwhile the CC is poised to approve yet another tax giveaway for more apartment construction (Innovation Debacle)that will lead to further tax increases with no benefit to taxpayers.

Rick October 14, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Milly and paul on the heels of a fire in Stamford at city carting recyclables picking up yard waste may not be in the budget.

What we were not told was what the city needs to come up with to maintain the blue bucket pickup ‘

What once was a money maker for any city has become an expense no one wants recyclable material when its contaminated . In fact surrounding cities are talking its going to cost more money to pick it up”A few weeks ago we were told what money to expect on the return of reclables missing what it costs to pick up and how much is actually going into landfills as it is, missed the article completely .

Some cities are pulling the plug on blue buckets take it and SORT it out there is no more money to pick it up/

We were told what the city makes on the blue buckets neglecting to tell us what it costs to pickup only person making money is city carting right?

Blue buckets now get sticklers and they are not dumped , creating a new barrel of trash in nexts week pickup yep the last feel good article really hit home whats next for the trash pickup new contract signed yet waiting for what to tell us how bad out is? Yard waste pickup happens in all the cities and towns who plan for its taxpayers.

These articles are to make us feel good the city looks great yet the bottom line on whats going on seems to be missing.

I took pictures this week of clogged drains what the city is doing now instead of cleaning the lines they are using tar paper with holes to collect rubbish creating a new health hazard around the city in urban areas neglecting to do the right thing .

Mr mayor when your walking around the city look not the drains we have a health hazard in and around most business districts collecting food trash and creating homes for rats on wall st especially . Please challenge me on this what I found was disgusting while oblivious people are flying democratic signs for the next election not realizing their city is poorly run.

Millions have been spent on west ave yet it still floods guess our city engineers know how to milk the system while creating systems that don’t work.Bet the million you want is whats needed to fix west have and accommodate the hospital building at the old Y . Flooding in front of the new mall went viral making the new company who owns the mall wondering if rains will that close the mall ?

Unless your a senior citizen voting in Norwalk elections from Florida your new Millennials are new what Norwalk wants screw those who built the city sent kids to school and paid taxes all these years , keep voting for the local kids in office and get nothing in return .

Scarlet ohara October 14, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Gee, what is the sum of all the new positions in city hall since mayor king and assistant mayor rilling added this past summer????

Harry is a has been..gotta go.

Mike OReilly October 14, 2018 at 7:01 pm

I am all for investing in infrastructure and certainly waste water treatment. However the city has done a less than stellar job in cleaning catch basin’s they are often clogged with leaves. In past storms my neighbor’s and I cleared a few and it made a big difference. However this is not our full time job.
Rather than rant about unresponsive calls to The Mayor and customer service, may I suggest we step up servicing some of the most obvious flood zones. The one’s I get stuck on are Strawberry Hill, Norden and Old Saugatuck. I am sure there are many more.

Kevin Kane October 14, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Interesting news here. I like the update and quantified rain fall amounts but after that, Harry’s analysis goes down the catch basin. This is a typical, flawed approach to government: “We think we have a problem we are not quite sure we understand and have not defined what we will get in return so the starting price is ________ (insert inflated price here)”.
This is a common theme I see coming from Town Hall – no metrics, short on details, vague numbers and we need more money.
Ask yourselves: could you possibly go to your manager asking for a $1 million to spend in a 1 page Executive Summary such as the one presented here? And the only graphic is a picture of you in your suit?

Here is my feedback Mayors King and Rilling:
-What is the process for identifying, aging, monitoring, and prioritization of the catch basis system in Norwalk?
-What are the top 10 highest volume catch basins in Norwalk that cause the most outflow? What is their condition, how often are they monitored, why are they the highest volume, why are they not processing the water they are designed to – leaves, cracks, sticks, trash? Sorry, global warming is not an acceptable response.
-What specifically are other towns in Coastal Fairfield County doing to evaluate, understand, address and prevent similar problems?
-Where and how did you arrive at $1,000,000? What will the money be used for? When would the money be spent; over what period?
-What other methods have you explored including such things as this that my pal Google pulled up?: Evaluation of effectiveness of combined sewer overflow control measures by operational data. Seems interesting, no? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21252438
-Where does flooding rank in the priorities of taxpayers and residents? #1? #5? #39?
-What is the damage being done, in dollars and property damage, overtime, etc.? Quantify in dollars, hours, days, lbs of debris, gallons per catch basin etc.
-What alternatives did you evaluate and explore? What was the outcome? Why were those alternatives rejected or were there any positive elements? When did you do this analysis and over what period of time?
-What catch basins are working well and why? What can we learn from those to apply to those basins not working well?
-What cuts do you proposed to offset this expense? Provide a line by line analysis of those proposed cuts and the rationale.
-When will the $1M run out? What provisions are identified for “What If?” or conditional scenarios that could leave to cost over runs? Who is on the hook if it goes to say, $1.25M ? What are the incentives and timing for coming in UNDER budget?
-Articulate and explain why water running off of a road has to go to the treatment plant? Seems odd we are treating rain water run off in the same manner as we are feces and urine. Some catch basins say something like “runs to the Sound” or something similar indicating they go in a pipe to a stream, river, lake, ocean, etc. Should it say “Runs to a sewage treatment plant”? I’ve seen many that go right into a local stream, no?
-Who will pay? I live on Muriel Street – no issues here in 13 years. Not a 10 year or 100 year flood so that is why we need a time horizon for what we get for the $1m. Why should I pay if I don’t have a problem specifically related to catch basin flooding?
-I assessed the condition of 13 catch basins located on West Rocks from St. Marys Lane to Glenndenning. I submitted the 15 page pdf do DPW on Oct4, 2017 (NON, I will email it). Generally, the pavement sunk below the catch basin deck and is potential hazards to bicyclist and motorists in the form of flat tires and/or damaged wheels. What is the update on the repair and maintenance of those 13 catch basins? Are my photos illustrating issues that may be a cause of the issue, or perceived issue, you put forth above? Of the 12,000 catch basins, where do these 13 stand in the schedule of repair? Are they a flooding/excess flow problem? If yes, when and why?

I look forward to the response and opportunity to learn more. Until then, my answer to your request for a $1m of taxpayers money is no. I appreciate that you brought it to my attention.

To be continued,
Your Manager

EnoPride October 14, 2018 at 10:52 pm

@Kevin Kane… Right on! City Hall needs to do more research and answer your questions in order to calculate a more appropriate price quote to begin to remedy the flooding issues. If there are actual answers to even half of your questions, they have not been shared with the public in Mayor Rilling’s article of generalizations. I will guess that your questions cannot be answered in any detailed manner. I want answers.

Throwing an arbitrary sum of one million at this infrastructure improvement to prevent flooding without researching in a more detailed manner (Heck, without even being aware of where the trouble spots are around the city, it sounds like) seems like plain old shootin’ in the dark mismanagement. My guess is that it will take far more money than one million to even close to alleviate the flooding issues in a coastal city of this size. One million will barely make a dent here.

Maybe the billion dollar boondoggle walk bridge (which is just plain ugly and out of place and doesn’t even go with it’s surroundings aesthetically for it’s overinflated price tag) could have been more utilitarian/industrial chic in it’s design (more befitting of the locale…) and almost half it’s price like all the other bridges up the east coast (great examples in New Hampshire, Maine, etc…) so that monies more than one million could be allocated to researching and gradually implementing a top of the line anti flooding infrastructure. Also, take some of the unnecessary 15 mill away from this ridiculous Innovation District taxpayer suck proposal concocted by City Hall. Then you could easily have your anti flooding infrastructure monies covered. I’d rather see taxpayer money going toward anti flooding infrastructure than going toward incentivizing developers to put up more of the same ridiculous, redundant fortress apartments in this in theory Innovation District.

It’s about priorities…

Mitch Palais October 15, 2018 at 8:44 pm

1mm is a drop in the bucket for this issue. I’m all for infrastructure improvements but first we must

1- we have a hiatus on additional subsidized/ affordable housing which drags on the grand list and increases single family real estate taxes

2- we enforce zoning and eliminate all illegal apartments

3- we stabilize growth in the student population and eliminate all sanctuary city policies.

Glinda GoodWitch October 18, 2018 at 4:19 pm

I been an E. Norwalk residents and taxpayer for 45+ years. I am retired and on a fixed income.
If the sewage treatment facilitiy is over burdened WHY was all of the apartments/condo construction explosion that is apparently evident in Norwalk, get thru Planning and Zoning?????Perhaps the Developers and politicians should have to pony up. The residential property owners have been severely over taxed for to long…enough already!!

Matthew Crawford October 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm

I’d love to contribute to this worthy cause! Can I sell for scrap the street signs the city just installed on my property and donate the proceeds??

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