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Birmingham flooding claims due September 7

By Kevin Elliott


Birmingham residents hoping to file a claim with the city for damages related to sewer backups from the July 24 storms that caused widespread flooding across metro Detroit have until September 7 to submit information.


Birmingham consulting city engineer James Surhigh said about 350 people reported flooding, but not all have filed claims with the city. He said the city is in the process of investigating flooding from the storm to see if there are specific issues that need to be remedied.


“We had reports from all four corners of the city,” Surhigh said about the flooding, during an update to city commission members on Monday, August 9. “It was pretty widespread. We are concentrating on reports that indicate some further investigation to determine if there’s a pattern.”


Surhigh said the city requested homeowners to report flooding after the July 24 storm to determine where problems areas may be and what may be done to mitigate future flooding, and is different than the claims process.


While flooding occurred throughout the city, Surhigh said a pattern appeared in the north-central part of Birmingham, near Poppleton Park, as well as the Birmingham Villas neighborhood, near Torry Street and Sheffield Road. Groupings of flooding also occurred with residents on Catalpa and other streets.


“I want to assure everyone that we are looking at all streets, not just those that are highlighted,” he said.


Surhigh said the Poppleton Park area flows northwest along Woodward where it connects to the Birmingham CSO drain, which is under the jurisdiction of the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. The Birmingham Villa area drains east toward Eton and leaves the city through the George Kuhn Drain, which also is under the jurisdiction of the county. Claims to the county may be filed with the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner.


The majority of flooding occurred from sewer drains backing up into basements, while some had water seep through windows and cracks in walls or foundation. Surhigh said the city is investigating


City commissioner Clinton Baller asked what residents and the city can do to reduce the chance of flooding with future rain events.


“Some of the residents just had sewers installed, and they still flooded,” Baller said. “What happened there?”


Surhigh said that while some sewers have been updated and replaced, there could still be bottlenecks downstream where updates are needed. He said the city is revisiting sewer inspection data started in 2018 to identify those areas. He also said that residents should have their own homes inspected for potential problems.


“Not only do intense rainfall events effect the city and county system, it affects individual systems, including the swales and drains on your property,” he said.


Looking specifically at the July 24 storm, about 1.7 inches fell during a half hour, with 1.9 inches over an hour during the peak of the storm. Surhigh said the likelihood of such a rainfall is about two to fpur percent over 100 years, and meets the current design standards of the city’s stormwater system. Further, he said, both June and July had higher than average rainfall, saturating the ground and increasing the potential for runoff.


“Most of that rainfall – 1.7 inches – most of that fell in 30 minutes,” Surhigh said. “That’s what we call an exceedent storm, exceeding the design standards for the sewer system, which is a 10-year, one-hour event.”


City manager Tom Markus confirmed the city is investigating to see if there are circumstances that may have contributed to flooding.


“We have to figure out in each area if there was something that aggravated the situation to those neighborhoods. That will drive potential solutions, whether they are maintenance or capital improvements,” Markus said. “As a practical matter, we are going to have to look at planning issues and look at pervious versus non-pervious sources that are built into our land use ordinances, and then how do we deal with that?”


Markus said there are other actions the city and residents can take, such as not doing laundry or other activities that push water into the system during heavy rain events.


Ultimately, Markus said it’s likely that changes to zoning and other actions will need to be made in the future, as climate change and extreme weather events become increasingly common.


“I believe rain, effects of fires and global warming are all interconnected,” Markus said. “I think we are looking at different things going forward and will change how we do things. I came from an area where we had odd and even days for watering lawns. Birmingham avoided a lot of that over the years, and going forward we may be looking at more difficult decisions as to how we live here in this community, and those are going to be difficult choices for all of us.”

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