WFB flooding .. where are we going?

Deluge, Trustees, Village Hall, Village Board

The WFB NOW article, "Residents question leadership on flooding" explains the frustration many villagers have after the July rain events that caused so much damage.  I'll take a shot at explaining what the Village has done over the past weeks, and where it is going.

First, I'll to suggest there are two aspects to this issue.  The first is communication.  The second is action.


While the Village did a decent job communicating with Villagers in the first few days after the flooding event, I doubt many are happy with the effort since.    Many residents are frustrated with the lack of explanations and answers.    At the August 2nd Trustee meeting, many expected a solid presentation with maps, charts, and a history of past events and discussion of historic analysis that was performed on our sewer systems.    Shorewood, by example, gets high marks in this category, with a 22 page presentation and no fewer than four public meetings on the matter.

If you are a long-time reader, you'd know half the reason I created this blog was due to the lack of communication within the Village.   As a Trustee, I've failed to get traction to improve these communication issues.  However -- this issue did surface at Monday's Trustee meeting, and I suspect we'll discuss the issue many more times in the month ahead. 


Firstly, I'd like to explain that there are a number of groups involved, each with its own strengths and weaknesses -- how I see it.

  • Trustees - As witnessed at the August 2nd meeting, the Trustees, two social workers, a banker, a webmaster, and retired lawyer, retired journalist, and retired engineer .. are not hydrological experts.   We volunteer to serve, to ask reasoned questions, and set the mission on dozens of topics from the technical to the mundane.  I'm not passing the buck here.  You don't want us fixing your sewers -- You want us finding the right people to fix your sewers, then making sure the job gets done.
  • The Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) - This committee has some advantages with its membership, as it does have an environmental attorney, an MMSD manager, and an environmental engineer.  This group is comprised of your neighbors, volunteering their time.  They can ask questions and make recommendations, but only on the information placed in front of them, plus their own knowledge.
  • Village Staff - The Village employs an engineer, an assistant engineer, and a engineer tech, as well as DPW staff.   They're the ones who've spent the most time "down under" in our sewers, and should have an intimate knowledge of the system.  However.  They are also managing and executing dozens of other projects, from pot holes to street lights, from sidewalk construction to playground design.
  • Stormwater Management Engineers/Consulting firm - A big part of "finding the right people" is that the Village is putting out an RFP to hire a firm to address the sewer backup issues, to issue a comprehensive report on our systems' capacity and possible improvements to municipal and private sewer lines.

Eventually, these groups will recommend many items, small and large, expensive and not, short term, and long.  It is obvious due to the complexity, that the short term solutions will help, but not solve, and we need to be prepared for a lengthy effort.

The analysis comes first .. prompted by a 1998 rain event, a 1999 study was issued that should be somewhat duplicated and updated with 2010 information.  The "Earth Tech" study is a good read for anyone interested in our sewer topography (as it was in 1999.)  Clearly, one first question is to examine each recommendation and its final execution.  (And yes, I realize there are other reports that have been issued over the past 10-15 years.  All of them should and will be examined.)

So here's a few items that have occurred since the 11" rain 4 weeks ago:

  • The DPW has jumped on the items they can do, namely, sewer inspection, televising, and root cutting in the areas identified by the large clusters of reported backups.  In a normal year, the Village inspects 20-25% of all sewers on a rotating basis.
  • The Village has collected 710 flooding reports.  54% (388) were reports of clear water only, 46% (322) reported some element of sewer backup.    (Clear water usually comes from walls/floors, but could come from the sanitary / floor drain.  I was one of the 388 who reported clear water leaking from my walls.)  If you haven't reported, you can click the link and report via email or call village hall.
  • The EAC held a 3 hour meeting last week to debate and augment the Village Staff's recommended work outline.    The plan consists of about 30 items, covering municipal storm and sanitary, and municipal storm and private laterals/runoff issues.   Click here to read.  (I believe this is the first draft, without the edits discussed at the meeting.)   The document is a good read, in that it shows a decent level of detail on the many bullet points that will be addressed over the next several months.
  • The Trustees met again this week and identified funding sources for, and approved the issuance of an RFP for a stormwater management engineering firm.  Over the next month, one would expect the RFP to be crafted and issued. 

A few next steps:

  • Village staff sketched out an ambitious agenda for the next EAC meeting, .. "Explore potential for larger sanitary sewers .. additional by-pass points  .. larger storm sewers .. discuss possible changes to current ordinances" and a dozen other topics.  Representatives from MMSD will be present.  Some of these sewer topics are obvious tasks for the eventual sewer consulting firm. 
  • An RFP for a stormwater engineering firm will go out to bid with final approval from the Trustees.
  • A lengthy article will be inserted in the next Bay Leaves, entitled "What can I do to reduce the chance of water in my basement?"

In summary .. while I believe the Village must do far better with its communication efforts, they are secondary to the action items that are currently in the works.

The true test will be in 2 years, 4 years, 7 years, when one can judge whether Whitefish Bay has kept the issue on the front burner and designed and constructed a better sewer system to handle mother nature's assaults.

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