Frustrated Jefferson City residents on Thursday implored city officials to do more to address flooding that damages their homes with increasing frequency.
Amy and Mike Buechler, who live on Marilyn Drive, said their home flooded within the first two years of living there. But after they installed a drain in front of the garage it didn't happen again for seven years.
However, their basement has seen seven flood incidents since 2016.
The couple was one of four households that attended the Jefferson City Public Works Committee meeting Thursday to discuss stormwater issues after flash flooding at the end of last month.
The city received more than 30 calls as a result of the 3- to 6-inch downpours seen June 24-25.
Public Works Director Matt Morasch said the calls were mostly in the west side of town, but that could change as the city is still receiving calls about it.
For the most part, Morasch said last week, people had flooded homes as water from nearby creeks or the stormwater system got in through openings. There were also a few calls about the sanitary sewer system.
"Each one is unique," Morasch said. "We're talking about poor condition of pipe, flooding over the road, debris in the creek. It's almost an individual meeting has to occur with everyone to just kind of advise them on what solutions might be available."
He said Thursday the rain gauges clocked a 50-year rain event, while some staff members reported closer to a 100-year rain event.
A 100-year rain event has a 1 percent chance of happening at any given time and a 50-year event would be a 2 percent chance. Morasch said it's based on the history of rainfall in the area.
In some areas of town, Morasch said, people have reported more than 14 inches of rain over the course of five days at the end of June.
Amy Buechler said her garage and basement flooded three times over the course of that weekend and the culvert on Marilyn Drive isn't large enough to contain the water during heavy rains.
"The rain just comes right into our garage, and it just fills up our entire basement," she said.
She attributed the increase in flooding over the last five years to the city's replacing part of the stormwater system up the road in 2016.
"I'm not saying that didn't need to be fixed," she said. "However, when you have multiple drains upstream now that are free flowing and not collapsed in, that rainwater can just rush down into ours. Our feeling is that just opened up the amount of volume that comes into our bottleneck and without addressing that pipe and making it any larger for that increased flow."
The Buechler home flooded in September 2016, March 2017, August 2019, June 2020 and three times at the end of last month, Amy said.
The family has had to pull out drywall and insulation along with flooring several times due to flooding and lost property stored in the basement. Amy said they've tried water resistant drywall and concrete finished flooring, but continue to have issues.
"We just need help," she said. "That's what we're looking for. We can't keep doing this and I'm not going to sell this for someone else to have these problems — and if we did, we're not going to get the money we put into it."
Morasch said it's hard to know whether the Buechlers' situation was a "blip in history" or whether it will be a continuing problem.
"We had a lot of frequent storms in last five years, as you point out, that are high-intensity storms," he said. "That could be more of a new normal we have to deal with, that we still have to deal with those things whether it happens every few years or every other year."
Jeri James, who lives on Allen Drive, said there's a pressurized inlet next to her house that "shoots out into my neighbor's house just like it's 10 fire hoses" when the system fills up.
The area has experience 4-foot-deep sinkholes as well, she said.
"What's taking so long to fix this?" she said. "They ran a TV (camera) down that inlet in 2019, and I had a meeting earlier this week and people were saying the homeowner put it in. Well, the homeowner didn't put it in; the city did."
James also expressed concern about the city's system for tracking when constituents call to say there's a problem.
Morasch said there's a "simplified paper-like system" and not a large database to track calls coming in.
"We keep track of work that we're doing on paper, but it's not very searchable," he said.
James said she has requested records about the inlet but hasn't received answers about who put it in and why.
"We've been in that house since '66, and that pipe needs replaced," she said. "I'm tired of being told what we're going to do. How long have you known? Because it just continues, and it's ridiculous.
"I was so upset when I was told to brick up the doors. Brick them up. Are you serious? These are our homes. This is our safe haven. Everyone who leaves here today will go home to their apartment or trailer or house and that's your safe haven. You shouldn't have to worry about water coming in."
Mike Buechler said they were also told to brick up the garage. Amy agreed it isn't an option for them.
"You guys allowed my house to be built there in the '80s. Yes, that was before the stormwater issues, but that's not our fault," she said. "We moved into a house, the best that we could find; we've done what we think we can do, and bricking in the garage is not really a solution for us as far as getting any value out of that house in the future."
Morasch said he's heard about issues in the area for the 19 years he's been with the department.
"It's an older infrastructure," he said. "Typically what happens is we get a sinkhole, we go out and try to put a patch on it, and over time the sinkholes become too frequent."
He said the city is working on a lining project with pipes such as the one on Allen Drive, which would renew the pipe without disturbing yards.
"It's fairly expensive, to be honest," Morasch said. "Our funds normally come through the half-cent sales tax. There's roughly a couple million dollars over five years to do that work citywide. That's why it does take a long time; the project list is very long. It's not just in your neighborhood, it's in many neighborhoods; but we try to work through that as funds become available."
James Gooch, who lives in Cole County, said his basement flooded due to debris build up and a dumpster blocking the creek.
He argued the city and county should work together more on addressing stormwater issues, along with other pertinent state departments, to make it a more even playing field.
"What's happening upstream is affecting the county downstream," he said. "It's really got me concerned."
Frank Boyce, who lives on Del Mar Drive, said he experienced flooding four years ago and again at the end of last month.
"The water came all the way up to the house and caused a little bit of water damage," he said. "It doesn't seem like the creek can handle all the water (from heavy rain) and then it overflows. I don't know if it needs to be made deeper or a larger culvert going under the street. I'm not sure where it's getting blocked up. It seems to come on really suddenly, and then it disappears really suddenly."
Morasch said it is possible to clear debris out of the creek, but "Mother Nature's always trying to put it back in."
It would be a daunting task, he said, and there's going to be debris in the creeks that will cause the creek or nearby pipes to clog.
Also, if the creeks were cleaned out, then erosion would become worse, Morasch said. Erosion is another common complaint the Public Works Department hears.
Part, but not all, of the city is in a regulated floodplain. Other parts, especially around creeks, can be in a floodplain without it being regulated.
"The unfortunate part of that for folks is that if you're not in a regulated floodplain, you don't really get a lot of notice of it on your title work or something like that when you buy a house," he said.
Morasch recommended people look at floodfactor.com for information on flooding risk.
He also recommended people who experienced damage from the storms at the end of June call Cole County Emergency Management Director Sierra Thomas at 573-634-9146. Thomas is collecting information to see if Cole County can get a distastes declaration that could open up low interest loans and other funding options for damage.
Additionally, he recommended everyone look into flood insurance to cover themselves if something happens.
"We've encountered folks that have done everything right," he said. "They're in the regulated floodplain; they're elevated to the proper elevation, and something happened. There was some clogging or something, we don't even know. No one knows really, and they still got flooded. Now, is that because rainfall was higher than the estimated amount even for the regulated floodplain? Could be. It could be that you know there was some clogging issues. It could be a lot of different things."