Port Richmond floods: explanation and advice

The Phil­adelphia Wa­ter De­part­ment says re­cent floods in Port Rich­mond were due to the sys­tem be­ing over­whelmed, but not by a break­down in the sewage in­fra­struc­ture.

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. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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