It wasn’t tidal influence but just a saturation of rain water that caused the worst flooding to hit Aberdeen in probably a decade earlier this week, according to Aberdeen Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe.
Bledsoe says the city’s pumps and drainage fields worked just like they were supposed to, but the system just couldn’t keep up with the increased amount of rain.
“This is the worst event we’ve seen since the pumps were in place about 10 years ago, comparable to flooding before the system,” Bledsoe said. “If this had happened with no pumps in place, it would have been in the front doors of homes all over the city.”
In the 48 hours from Sunday to Tuesday, Hoquiam recorded 3.99 inches of rain, while Quinault had 5.27 inches and Humptulips had 5.25 inches. The worst of the rain hit between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday, about 2.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Specific numbers for Aberdeen are not available.
“The rains we’ve had are the worst I’ve seen it in years,” Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson said on Wednesday. “It was so bad we even had a house on Stewart Boulevard come off its foundation. I was out of town and hearing the stories, seeing the photos and looking at everything today. It really was unbelievable.”
Bledsoe said that the tide was at 9.5 feet when the flooding occurred. Had it been at 12 feet, “then all of downtown Aberdeen would have been under water,” Bledsoe said. “We lucked out because a week earlier, we had the tide at 12 feet. Heavy winds would make the situation even worse.”
Bledsoe said he doesn’t suspect the flooding will continue this weekend, unless an identical situation occurs. Grays Harbor Emergency Management Deputy Director Chuck Wallace is already sounding the alarm to expect heavy rains and gusty winds approaching 45 mph today, although the weather outlook is supposed to be better for Saturday and Sunday.
Some businesses in downtown Aberdeen aren’t taking any chances, placing sandbags to prevent future flooding. Anne Marie’s Café will leave the sandbags in place at least through Saturday, with customers stepping over the bags to enter the restaurant.
Waitress Samantha Jones said the problem on Monday was exacerbated by passing cars that caused waves to travel over the sidewalk and push the water further inside, enveloping almost the entire floor and into the nearby lobby to the elevator.
Bledsoe says the city put pumps in place and turned Franklin Field into a water retention area about 10 years ago.
“I think we can learn from this flood event,” Bledsoe said. “I’m going to sit down with my storm water and street guys and discuss every neighborhood that was impacted because sometimes there are minor changes that we can do to help flooding,” Bledsoe said. “Is there some way we could have operated the pumps differently to start pumping sooner? We’re going to go through and do a thorough analysis. This is the first time we’ve had something that’s tested and overwhelmed the system and that will help us see where the vulnerabilities are.”
Bledsoe said he’d always warned that one day the system he put in place would not be enough to handle all of the city’s potential flooding.
“It goes back to when I told the city council right at the start that we didn’t have the money to fix the whole problem,” Bledsoe said. “I explained the 80/20 rule to the city council, that I could solve 80 percent of the problems for 20 percent of the cost but it would take the remaining 80 percent of the money to solve the last 20 percent. Since we only had about 20 percent of the money we needed to really fix everything we tackled, resolving the 80 percent.”
The big problem on Monday is that the city’s pipes were just too small to handle the capacity of water they needed to drain. One solution could be to install a giant pipe and a big pump station along Market Street that all of the smaller pipes could drain into. But that’s a $2 million project — money that the city doesn’t have, especially as it looks to upgrade its waste water system.
“A big pipe like that would be the equivalent of six Franklin Fields,” Bledsoe said. “You see, when Franklin Field fills up that means most of the pipes are at capacity.”
Bledsoe acknowledged that there was some flooding on the West end of Aberdeen that was pump-related. The main pump on Fire Creek broke down and the city’s stand-by pump was not able to pump out as much water as the original one.
Then, the pump at the end of Duffy Street stopped in the middle of the storm and couldn’t be re-started. That intensified the flooding along Cherry Street.
Mayor Simpson said he authorized Public Works to spend an extra $1,000 to get the pump on Duffy Street repaired as soon as possible. But Bledsoe said that parts for the Fire Creek main pump will take longer to get because parts aren’t immediately available.