Friday, July 20, 2012

letter to DC Water`s Emmanuel Briggs from Bloomingdale resident Casey Torgusson

From: Casey Torgusson
To: Emanuel D. Briggs

Cc: A bunch of neighbors; tclark @; Alan R. Heymann ; Carlton M. Ray ; Dunbar C Regis ; Tanya DeLeon ; Barry Lucas ; Lisa Barton ; Charles Kiely ; yalexander @; kmcduffie @; cgriffin @; jmobley @

Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:24 PM
Subject: Re: Follow Up From Last Night`s Meeting

Dear Mr. Briggs,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with Bloomingdale and Ledroit Park Residents during at the Bloomingdale Civic Association Meeting Monday night.

While I appreciated the opportunity to voice our concerns I was dismayed by the lack of real solutions offered during the meeting.  Following the second flood in 8 days, hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage in the neighborhood and extreme frustration and exasperation of area residents, I think it is safe to speak for us all by saying this is completely unacceptable. 

I appreciate that a long-term clean rivers project is in the works, which may eventually solve the problem, but waiting until 2025 for resolution while our homes repeatedly flood is not an acceptable option. 

DCwater has known about the problems with the sewer system in Bloomingdale and Ledroit Park for many years and has done next to nothing to resolve it.  If the Mayor`s house was flooded with sewage every time there was a heavy rain I highly doubt DC Water management would shrug their shoulders and tell him he had to wait 13 years before it would be fixed. 

If it has been deemed too costly and/or technically difficult to implement an interim solution to fix the sewer system itself, I hope and expect that DC Water will at the very least fully compensate homeowners and vehicle owners who suffered losses in these two event and implement a second-best solution to minimize the damage from new occurrences going forward. 

I would suggest the following actions:

      I.         Survey the neighborhood to quantify the numbers of people impacted and damage estimates:  From the civic association meeting it was clear that DC Water has no sense of the scale of the damage or numbers of people affected.   Walking around Bloomingdale the day after each event the number is clearly in the hundreds as homes all along Rhode Island Avenue, T street, Seaton, S, and Randolph were flooded and I`m sure there were other areas as well.  During the civic association meeting you indicated only a few people had called or filed claims and that this was DC Water`s only source of information about the impact. This underestimation has likely been a source of inaction in the past as you are not able to accurately weigh the scale of the problem. 

    II.         Speedy, Fair and Transparent Compensation for Losses and Expenses:  The clean up and repair process after sewage backup is dirty, labor intensive and expensive.  Waiting 45 days or more after filing a loss claim for a decision and then even longer for a payment is too long.  Residents have had to take action immediately, spending in many cases thousands of dollars out of pocket for needed cleaning and repairs and many hours of their time with no idea of what, if anything will be reimbursed and when.  Residents of basement units have been forced out of their homes.  Personal belongings have been destroyed.  The claims office representative from DC Water could give no indication whatsoever of what types of losses and expenses would be covered or how this determination would be made, other than that it would be handled by DC Water`s insurance company.  If my previous interactions with insurance companies are any indication, they will work very hard to ensure that as little as possible is covered.  I hope this is will not be the case, but the presentation at the meeting did not inspire confidence.  I would ask that DC Water management takes an active role to ensure that a good faith effort to cover all losses and to fast-track claims processing is made. 

  III.         Implement a Backflow Prevention Program:  DC Water should systematically install backflow prevention valves and rain barrels on all homes in the affected area.  This has been the solution offered by many cities facing similar issues of sewage backup and a long timeline for a permanent solution.  I`ve attached to this email a report on the outcomes of one such highly successful program in Louisville, but a quick online search indicates there are many such examples. 

Installation of these devices by individual homeowners is not a viable solution, nor should homeowners bear the additional cost of installing equipment that would be unnecessary if the sewer system DCWater is responsible for managing and maintaining was properly functioning.  We already pay taxes and water bills and have a right to expect a functioning system in return, not to pay thousands of dollars to compensate for negligence and refusal to address an ongoing problem in a reasonable timeframe.

Further, comprehensive coverage is needed to be effective.  As some of my neighbors who have individually installed these devices have learned  in recent days, while the device may block sewage from coming up your drain, the water still runs through your party walls and into the basement from neighboring flooded houses.  Blocking sewage backup into your home also increases the pressure on other exit points, creating a worse flooding situation for your neighbors.  All homes in the neighborhood need to be covered for this to be effective – pushing the water into the street where is can sit until the system clears and water recedes.  This will not save the cars parked in the street, but it will at least limit the damage to homes.  

Lastly, an accompanying rain barrel and/or roof water diversion system is needed to collect rainwater from roof which cannot drain when the backflow preventer is engaged.  Most homes in the neighborhood are rowhouses with back-sloping roofs.  Water is collected off the roof and funneled into a storm drain in the rear of the property which is then supposed to flow to the city sewer.  If the water cannot drain because it is shut off by the backflow preventer the result will be a flood of stormwater at the back entrance of the house and into the basement (as many of us effectively experienced in the recent floods).

While not as optimal as a genuine fix to the system as a whole, as found in the Louisville case, a backflow prevention program can be a very effective and relatively low cost alternative to address this issue until a longer-term solution is in place.

Thank you for your time and attention to this problem.  I look forward to hearing from you and hope that DC Water will take up the action items identified with haste.  I am happy to work with you on the details of these solutions as I`m sure many of my neighbors would be as well.  We are very eager to put this repeated sage behind us. 

I am copying Councilman McDuffie and Councilwoman Alexander, who I understand chairs the committee of Public Services, overseeing DC Water on this letter and will ask that it is posted on the Bloomingdale and Ledroit Park list serves, along with any response so that those who were not able to attend the meeting will also be informed and can offer any additional feedback. 


Casey Torgusson
100 block of Rhode Island Avenue NW

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