Berkley discusses how flood happened and what to do next

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published September 12, 2017

 Mayor Pro Tem Steve Baker talks with residents before the meeting at the Berkley High School auditorium.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Baker talks with residents before the meeting at the Berkley High School auditorium.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

BERKLEY — The heavy rainfall that hit Berkley on Monday, Aug. 28, caused a flood that inflicted damage to an estimated 700 homes in the city.

To address how the flood that hit 10 percent of the city’s homes potentially happened, and to figure out a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again, city staff and City Council members held a meeting Sept. 7 at Berkley High School.

The auditorium of the school was almost filled to capacity with residents who were victims of the flood and those who were not, but all were worried about the possibility of another flood if the city is hit by a heavy rainfall similar to those in August 2014 and Aug. 28.

Though the initial reports the city received stated that Berkley received 2 inches of rain, City Manager Matthew Baumgarten said there were some resident rain gauges that showed 4-5 inches of rain at their homes. He added that the city is considering installing gauges to help get more accurate information in the future.

Based on the 700 homes that reported flooding to the city, a map showed that the southwest corner of Berkley was the hardest-hit area in terms of flooded homes, while the southeast corner had virtually no homes that flooded during the storm.

The storm in 2014 affected the whole region, but that wasn’t the case this year.

“This was not a regional storm. This was more of a Berkley story,” Baumgarten said.

As to how so many homes flooded again, Baumgarten said he doesn’t have an exact answer yet.

“The way that the system behaved, the most likely cause, the most plausible cause that we have right now, is we had too much rain, and it came into us way too fast, and that’s why we saw the system rise up,” he said.

Public Works Director Derrick Schueller said that in the three years since the 2014 flood, in order to improve the pipe system, Berkley obtained a Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) grant to record video and inspect the sewer lines. The grant only allowed the city to spend the $669,000 to evaluate the system, not to make upgrades.

“We have over 50 miles of pipe, and we do clean and inspect our combined sewers,” he said. “We’ve gone through the entire site in the last two years. We’ve inspected and cleaned over 50 miles of pipe in the last two years, and I’m very proud of that number, because that is a very high-level service, if you will.”

It also was noted that 16 miles of the piping — 28 percent of the system — has been relined.

Baumgarten presented some ideas of what the city can do to help in the future, including installing rain gardens, early warning systems, separating the combined sewer system, building a relief sewer in the city, working with homeowners to install backwater valves, and putting in rain barrels. He also suggested that homeowners can put in their own rain gardens in their backyards.

Baumgarten said he would love to be able to say this is never going to happen again, but he doesn’t know what the true fix is yet in terms of how to prevent future floods, and this is the first of many meetings they will have on the subject.

According to an FAQ that the city handed out before the event, the city will continue ongoing preventive maintenance, sewer lining and monitoring processes, as well as initiate a sewer system capacity analysis.

“The data may help identify additional capacity alternatives, cost, feasibility and reasonable next steps for Berkley’s future given the frequency of extreme weather events. With this information, we will follow up with the (Oakland County water resources commissioner) and neighboring communities to determine if a regional approach can be identified and implemented,” it said.

The full FAQ and PowerPoint of the meeting can be found at www.berkleymich.org.

When it came time for residents to speak to the city, one after another, upset homeowners spoke about their concerns that flooding was able to happen again.

Some residents voiced concerns about the leadership of the city not leading; others mentioned worries about the capacity of the sewer system with new builds coming into Berkley; and some felt the meeting itself was just damage control to say the sewers are fine and that it was just way too much rain at one time, which earned applause from the audience.

Resident Lisa Kempner, whose home flooded both on Aug. 28 and in 2014, said she doesn’t want the city saying this is for sure what happened, in the case of receiving too much rain in a short amount of time, when the city doesn’t know at this point why some parts of Berkley flooded and some didn’t.

“I cannot go through this every three years,” she said. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. It’s horrifying, and I’ll tell you, the 4 inches or 5 inches, that’s kind of not even the point at this point. We were flooding within 15 to 20 minutes (of the rain).”

She added, “What happened in that 15 minutes that we couldn’t take on that heavy rain? Because we’re going to get more heavy rains. That’s not going to be the only heavy rain we ever have. I don’t want a flood every three years. I really don’t. We have to come up with a solution.”

Tim Detavernier said that when he first moved into his home in 2009, his street flooded a month later and he thought it was just a rare case. He now says it happens about once a month.

“I don’t know why, but water used to come up through my basement shower on a regular basis,” he said. “It wouldn’t often spill over … but sometimes it would. So we did have a backflow preventer put in in 2012. It did fail during both the major floods. My street still floods, again, on a regular basis to the point where I can’t park my car in the street in front of my house if there’s supposed to be rain, because I’m worried about my car flooding. Every once in a while, the city will come by and sweep the drain, but that’s the only thing I’ve seen done about that.”

Detavernier said that because of his job, he was fortunate enough to be able to do all of his own restoration, as otherwise, over the two floods, he would have been out at least $10,000. But with three small children, he feels it wouldn’t be safe to continue living in his home on Ellwood Avenue.

“It was heartbreaking to throw out all my child’s toys,” he said. “I just want to impose upon you guys a true sense of urgency, because if we don’t get some resolution pretty soon, I am going to have to move. I will not live in an unsanitary home with small children.”