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Louisville's Flooding Issues Are Widespread and Growing, and a Fix May Be Years Away

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For months, Louisville city leaders have concentrated on dealing with the flooding woes of a small group of residents.

But Louisville's flooding issues have been steadily growing, and they've reached a much wider piece of turf than where Metropolitan Sewer District officials have so far recently concentrated their attention.

For example, Prospect residents scolded MSD leaders this week during a flood mitigation workgroup meeting because of bad flooding in the northeastern Louisville suburb. One couple said they have had sewage and storm water flood their homes on multiple occasions since late June.

The flood mitigation workgroup was meeting to tackle other flood issues in the city—namely, the plans to buyout homes that are frequently suffering devastating floods.

But the workgroup's efforts are a reminder that Louisville's infrastructure can't keep up with the increase of rainfall the city has steadily experienced, and plans to address the issue will take years to realize.

Prospect Mayor John Evans said he attended the meeting earlier this week to draw attention to what has been going on in his city.

Evans said he has gotten almost a dozen calls from residents experiencing serious flooding in their homes. During the evening of June 24, Evans said the city was in particularly bad shape.

“There was water practically up to your waist,” he said. “It tore the asphalt off the streets.”

On that day, the city had three inches of rain in less than an hour. In less than two and a half hours, the area was inundated with five inches of rain.

“It’s seven or eight times the rate that would normally fall during that bigger event,” said MSD’s Brian Bingham.

MSD’s draining systems are clearly unable to handle these major rain events, Evans said. He warned these rain events are also becoming increasingly frequent due to climate change.

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And Evans added: “To be fair, the drainage system that exists in the city of Prospect was put there by the developer for the most part 40 years ago."

But because MSD successfully sued Prospect to gain possession of the city’s sewer system about 15 years ago, it is the agencies responsibility now to figure out what is going on and how to fix it, Evans said during an interview.

“When people have sewage coming into their homes you know it ruins things, they are afraid … It’s beyond absurd,” Evans said. “That is their responsibility to handle the flood waters,” Evans said.

During the meeting, MSD’s outgoing executive director Greg Heitzman acknowledged this was indeed his agency’s job.

MSD is still looking into what is going on in Prospect, Bingham said. He also noted the area had some of the most intense storms that the city has had in the past 20 years.

“We are going to meet with those residents," he said. "We are going to talk more and see if we can’t figure out a solution that will work for everyone.”

In fact, MSD is already aware of issues with draining in the area. One of the couples living in Prospect experiencing consistent flooding lives along Gunpowder Lane. According MSD’s records, they are in the planning stages of fixing that neighborhood’s drainage as part of Project Win.

Via the project’s website:

“Project WIN includes a series of sewer overflow reduction projects defined in the Integrated Overflow Abatement Plan (IOAP), that will be constructed through 2024, at an estimated cost of $850 million. The projects are designed to capture and route for treatment sewage mixed with stormwater that would otherwise overflow into the community’s creeks and the Ohio River. These projects include large storage basins, pipelines, and sewage treatment facilities."

The project for the Gunpowder Lane neighborhood would include putting in bigger “in-line storage pipe” as well as other pipe upgrades, according to MSD records. The project started in March 2010 and not expected to be completed until Dec. 31, 2021.

Project WIN is in response to a federal consent decree. So help is coming to many flood-prone parts of Louisville, but the problem won't be fully addressed until the middle of the next decade.

Heitzman promised during the flood mitigation meeting that his agency would hold a community meeting with residents within the next two weeks.

As MSD dealt with a new round of flood complaints, they also discussed the agency’s ongoing quick buyout program for substantially damaged homes in the area that are prohibited from repairs.

Right now about 21 homes in Louisville fit that description and 18 are in the application process for a buyout. MSD’s board recently set aside $1 million for the program—the first phase of which should end by September, said Bingham.

So far, this round of buyouts will come in under $900,000, according to Bingham. Whether that or not that will leave room for other homes also sustaining constant flood damage is an ongoing issue. Bingham said they will approach the MSD Board for more money if it’s necessary.