"When you're draining 8,000 acres" the approximate area of the Shockoe Valley watershed "you're draining so much water, it's crazy," says city engineer Gary Duval.
Even before Gaston, says Amy Cabaniss, owner of Julep's New Southern Cuisine, regular rainstorms produced pools of water that lingered in the streets around her restaurant. "This was going on for months," she says, and no one seemed to be doing anything about it.
Now the city, acting on recommendations from a Federal Emergency Management Agency study and a local task force, has a plan to fix some of the problems that leave the Bottom soggy after storms.
The city has $1.9 million set aside by the City Council from a surplus in last year's budget. Highest on the priority list were investments that would make the most difference for the least expense. "In other words," says Interim Public Works Director William E. "Chuck" Henley, "where would the city get the most bang for its buck?"
The answer, according to the task force: repairing damaged floodwall gates, improving outlets for water to drain to the river, adding a big basin to catch runoff and rewriting parts of the floodwall instruction manual, among other things.
Installing a system of computerized electronic rain-gauge stations throughout the Shockoe Valley watershed will allow the city to better predict flooding, Henley says, and will cost about $125,000 after a grant from FEMA.
The city also plans to improve the east gravity outlet, a big grate that drains water from the Bottom and easily gets clogged by debris, and expand an existing or build a new retention basin that would reduce storm flooding by collecting runoff before it could enter the river.
Planning and engineering will begin this year, followed by repairs and construction in 2006. The city will also be conducting a more detailed study of the Bottom's drainage needs, Henley says, to guide future fixes.
But $2 million doesn't go very far. There are more than $7 million worth of improvements that remain to be done, according to the task force's report, and the city is appealing to the Army Corps of Engineers for assistance.
"I hope there are some improvements," Cabaniss says, adding, "I'll be curious what happens this summer." Melissa Scott Sinclair
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