High tides and a full moon contributed to Port Richmond’s basement flooding and some backed-up sewage leaking into homes after a heavy rainfall on Tuesday, July 23, according to Philadelphia Water Department officials.
“This was the first time that something so adversely affected this community,” said Philadelphia Water Department deputy commissioner of operations Debra McCarty of the flooding in Port Richmond.
On July 23, starting between 2:30 and 3 a.m., Port Richmond experienced about 2.5 inches of rain in one hour – which is considered an intense deluge, according to McCarty.
During the storm, the Delaware River was at high tide, and there was a full moon, McCarty said, which causes high tides to be higher than usual.
“If this had been during low tide, we may have well gotten some flooding, but it wouldn’t have been as bad,” McCarty said. “It was really due to this confluence of factors.”
Port Richmond homes’ water pipes all connect to shared sewer pipes which lead wastewater to a water treatment plant before dumping it into the Delaware River.
However, due to the circumstances, the Delaware River was higher than its normal level, and did not allow water to leave the sewage system.
“The river acted as a wall,” McCarty said.
Rainwater was forced backwards in the pipes and into Port Richmond residents’ homes, gushing up in many residents’ basements and in some cases destroying or ruining property.
McCarty estimated that sewage waste accounted for about five percent of the flooding.
“At that hour, it quite frankly is mostly rainwater, because people weren’t up flushing the pipes. But it doesn’t matter – it’s wastewater that got into people’s homes, and that’s a problem,” McCarty said.
The increased amount of “impervious surfaces” in the neighborhood – concrete and parking lots where soil used to be – is another factor that sends more rain-water into the sewers, rather than absorbing it and allowing it to evaporate, McCarty said.
“It’s just that deluge – nobody’s systems can handle that,” explained Joanne Dahme, the Philadelphia Water Department’s general manager of public affairs. “Even during Hurricane Floyd, which was seven inches — it was spread out over a period of 24 hours.”
Dahme said that on Friday, Aug. 9, the Water Department would send out flood surveys to more than 3,000 homes in Port Richmond.
“We need to know who was flooding, and even if they did not flood, we need to know that, too,” Dahme said.
A PDF of the flood survey can be found at www.reptaylor.com.
Water Department officials will continue to investigate the sewer collection system in Port Richmond to see if a blockage contributed to the flooding or if any other repairs could be made to improve the system, according to Dahme and McCarty.
Dahme and McCarty also urged Port Richmond residents who experienced flooding through water fixtures, toilets, or drains connected to the city’s sewers to sign up for the Basement Protection Plan. The Water Department will pay for plumbers to install valves in affected fixtures to prevent future flooding from city sewers.
For information about applying for the Basement Protection Plan, call 215-685-6300, or visit phila.gov/water and click on the “Basement Protection Program” information flyer. Though the 19134 ZIP code is not listed as eligible, McCarty stated that the ZIP code is indeed eligible in this specific scenario.
In response to inquiries about the Water Department paying to repair damages to their property sustained during the storm, Dahme and McCarty said that Water Department guidelines state they are only liable if damages are caused by a failure of the Water Department’s infrastructure.
As this flood was caused by the system being overwhelmed, not breaking down, the Water Department may not be liable to pay for any damages to homeowners.
“Unfortunately for the residents, we can only pay claims for property damage if it’s the result of the failure of our infrastructure,” McCarty said. “This is not an instance of that. The system took water away as best as it could.”
For information on how the Philadelphia Water Department is trying to reduce the risk of future floods, visit phillywatersheds.org.
To contact the Philadelphia Water Department regarding any of these issues, call (215) 685-6300. ••