Rain and melting snow make life dreary

Rainfall earlier this week may have received a warm welcome from many area residents who had been fed up with the recent snow, but for some individuals, it made matters escalate from bad to worse. For Millville resident Thomas Burns and his neighbors, the rain accumulation and melting snow has caused a multitude of problems in terms of flooding and stormwater damage.

Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor : Local roads and homes have been flooded all week by rain and melting snow.Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor
Local roads and homes have been flooded all week by rain and melting snow.

“The ditches in front of these homes are filled up,” he noted. “There’s nowhere for the water to go.”

Front and back yards in the Layton community located on Railway Road more closely resemble swamplands these days. Some residents have resorted to manually pumping water out of their garages in efforts to salvage their property. Water levels have slowly inched toward transformers housing electric and telephone lines, and, in some cases, the water has surpassed the base of the transformers.

Parts of Pine Street, just a block over from Burns’ road, are completely submerged underwater. Tire tracks from service vehicles leave deep ruts in muddy driveway entrances, serving as a harsh reminder of the indifference of Mother Nature.

“We have a large field backed up to some of these houses,” said Burns, “and they’re flooded, too.”

Elmer Road, a dirt and rock road entrance into the neighborhood, was never incorporated into the Town of Millville, noted Burns, saying that is a factor that has made maintenance in the area a difficult avenue to pursue. Neighbors pooled monies together and paid a local contractor to plow the road after the recent heavy snowfall.

“It’s a shame that we have to cover the expenses,” said Burns, “and people still have to worry about water coming into their heaters and outside air conditioners. I wish there is something the government could do about this mess, but the county won’t come in and take care of it.”

In some yards and storm ditches, the water is 18 inches deep. According to Burns, who said he has tried to help his neighbors whenever he can, a neighbor who is a widow cut her hand while trying to drain a flooded ditch, leading to her hospitalization and an amputated finger from the resulting infection.

Although the recent weather has exacerbated the drainage problem in the Layton neighborhood, the low-lying area has experienced drainage issues in the past.

“If it rains for any significant amount of time,” he said, “these ditches and yards start getting flooded. We need pipes running through them to help carry the water out of here. Otherwise, the water isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Standing water in the summertime provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, too, which have been a nuisance to neighbors, as well. According to Burns, Sussex County engineers assessed water damage near the end of last summer, but grades were not collected and matters have worsened. Even if it there is no rain or snowfall within the next few days, Burns said it will still be a few weeks before the water subsides.

“The weather this year has definitely been a serious issue when it comes to drainage,” noted Brooks Cahall, program manager of Delaware’s Soil and Water Conservation Drainage Program. “We’ve received 113 reports of roads, trap ponds and private properties flooded. Some are minor and some are major.”

So far, 38 reports have come in the month of January 2010 and 33 so far in February, he said.

“In a lot of cases, we have calls coming in multiple times a day,” said Cahall. “Our organization is not an emergency response team. We’re not immediate or urgent responders. We have field managers who will go out and address the concerns. In some cases, there may be something residents can do. Other times, we have to look at areas on a long-term basis.”

Delaware’s Division of Soil and Water works closely with the legislature on long-term projects, analyzing outlets for drainage improvements, some of which span a five-year timetable.

“A lot of time,” Cahall said, “it comes down to getting the funding lined up. We don’t always have the silver bullet. A lot of times, I wish we did.”

Ground water levels have been unusually high in past months, according to Cahall, and with the melting of the snow, they’re showing no signs of dropping anytime soon.

“[Sussex County] has had an above-average rainfall for 10 of the last 16 months,” he observed. “A gauge station on the Nanticoke, just south of Bridgeville, has had an above-average discharge of water into the stream for the last 10 months. This past November and December were record months for water levels, and we don’t even have data yet for recent months. A lot of ditches are full right now, and it’s just a matter of just catching up. We need break from Mother Nature and all of this wet weather.”

The low-lying areas that exist throughout Sussex County are not helping, as they typically gather much of the rainfall. Fortunately, warmer weather in the near future could help balance those groundwater levels, with vegetation springing to life and absorbing some of the water, and the sun evaporating more of it.

Until then, Burns said there’s not much he can do.

“I just want this mess taken care of,” he said. “The county and state should make more of an effort.”