Birmingham receives federal aid to improve drainage system
The pictures and videos of floods that hit the streets of the city of Birmingham earlier this year were shocking. In one instance, firefighters reported having saved more than 20 waters in a period of about an hour and 20 minutes. One man died.
Now help may be on the way. It was announced on Tuesday that Birmingham would receive federal aid to assess and improve the city’s stormwater drainage systems.
According to birminghamwatch.com, the city is one of 20 in the nation — out of more than 100 applicants — to receive a technical assistance grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“There is no direct funding that will be given to the city,” Kim Spiral, a city zoning administrator, told city councilors on Tuesday. “We will be given a representative who will work with our stormwater and our floodplain and hazard mitigation departments to identify projects to apply for future FEMA grant funding.”
Sporl called the grant “a victory for the city of Birmingham”.
Last month, Mayor Randall Woodfin told attendees at the Bloomberg CityLab summit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, that the city’s fire department carried out 86 water rescue operations in 2022 alone, including 20 in 80 minutes in March.
About 18,000 of the city’s 27,000 storm waters have been found “before their lifespan,” he said, adding that all of these would cost about $500 million to repair.
She added that extreme weather patterns caused by climate change have exacerbated the issue, disproportionately affecting black residents who have historically been remodeled to live in floodplains. He said federal aid would be necessary to fight this problem.
After massive flooding earlier this year, employees of the city’s Public Works Department tried to clear blockages in drains, cleaning inlets filled with mud and debris from the flood. Several “Jet Vac” trucks were used.
However, blockage was not the main problem, said Joshua D. Yates, director of the City of Birmingham Public Works Department.
“Our whole system was mainly open and flowing,” Yates said. “It’s just an event of a very large magnitude.”
Stormwater management staff reviewed data from gauges across the city and assessed the data to plan next steps. City employees continued to monitor any inlets in need of maintenance.
“Most of the inlets we examined are clear,” Yates said. “It’s really more of a system flood than a blocked inlet. It’s decades of systems being designed for a small storm event.”
The system was not designed for events as intense as the one the city experienced in mid-March.
“These are getting bigger and bigger events that we have to prepare for,” Yates said.
Dr. Hameed Moftakhari, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at the University of Alabama, told AL.com earlier this year that the Birmingham flash floods are part of a much bigger picture that needs to be addressed.
“I don’t think Birmingham is an exception,” he said. “Our infrastructure for stormwater drainage is out of date in many cities around the United States. We’re building rain and urbanization plans that are out of date.”
The 100-year floodplain covers more than 8,000 acres of Birmingham city limits.
Birmingham sits in one valley, the Jones Valley, and stormwater drainage is directed to both the Black Warrior River watershed and the Kaaba River watershed. Major creeks include the Shades and Little Shades Creeks, which flow into the Cahaba, and Five Mile, Valley and Village Creeks, which flow into the Black Warrior.
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