Is Arlington Ready for the Next Flood?
In 2019, a sudden squall left scores of local homes and businesses under water, causing millions in damages. Are we prepared for another one?
During an October “Flood Resilient Arlington” workshop, attendees pelted county officials with questions about why they weren’t using Arlington’s $23 million budget surplus for flood mitigation.
McBride’s response was that it was too early to start claiming that money, which will have competing demands. “I’m asking for patience,” she said. “I know that’s hard when your home is exposed.”
For some in the audience, the message that homeowners needed to make their properties more flood-resilient in the short-term while the county sorts out a larger, long-term approach wasn’t sitting well.
“The county was talking long-range and the people had just finished stuffing sandbags,” says Arlington County Civic Federation president Newton. “They wanted someone to help right now.”
County board member Dorsey says Arlington is considering a number of funding options, such as borrowing money through bonds, raising fees for stormwater services and possibly turning the stormwater program into a utility.
Planning engineers also need to determine which pipes need to be larger and where to send the overflow during big storms. The cost, he speculates, will be “in the tens of millions of dollars.”
“Arlington has the wherewithal to find ways to pay for this,” Dorsey says. “It’s really understanding what is the strategy that is going to work.”
• A “500-year flood” doesn’t mean the next flood won’t happen for half a millennium. It means that each year there’s a .2 percent annual flooding chance in a riverine zone. (Some parts of Arlington are in riverine zones.)
• Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, the risk of flood damage is higher than the risk of fire, according to Aileen Winquist, watershed outreach program manager for Arlington County.
• Clogged gutters, impervious pavement and vegetation close to a building increase its risk of flooding. Make sure drains are clear and pumps are working. Below-grade utilities like HVAC systems should be elevated.
• The average flood claim is $43,000, according to State Farm insurance agent Kenya Knight, who has offices in Arlington and Falls Church. Premiums are up to $3,000 a year in high-risk areas; just under $1,000 in moderate-risk areas; and about $500 in other areas.
• Not sure if your property is in a flood zone? Find out at fema.gov.
• More county information is available at arlingtonva.us/flooding.
Freelance writer Tamara Lytle has covered local issues ranging from gun safety to office vacancies in Arlington.