Sioux Falls bracing for more rain, flooding problemsby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
A line of thunderstorms in eastern South Dakota on Thursday, and predictions for more heavy rain have sparked fears of water problems for Sioux Falls, the state's largest city.
The community of 157,000 people near the Minnesota border already has seen record rainfall this summer, more than 18 inches total. City officials are worried about the potential for sewage flooding thousands of basements.
What seems like an endless line of storms has made life difficult for many Sioux Falls residents. The forecast of more rain has those like Kent Alberty on edge.
"It's difficult to sleep sound at night," Alberty said. "Every time you hear thunder or see lightning you certainly get nervous and apprehensive."
Alberty has good reason for the case of nerves. A storm two weeks ago flooded his basement.
"Pulled all of the carpets up, pulled up all of the pad from under the carpet, and hauled that out of the basement to dumpsters and got rid of that," he said. "Picked up all of the furniture and moved that."
But that wasn't the end of it. Since that initial damage, he's had to bail out his basement twice more as the heavy storms continued. That's something that's been seen all across the city. It's left even Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether feeling a little but jinxed.
"We need to be prepared once again for another rain event," Huether said. "We certainly wish that this wasn't occurring in our fair city, but it is."
Huether has already warned city residents that if the forecasted rain falls over the next day or so, they'll have to cut back on water use. He'd like them to postpone washing clothes and dishes, and take shorter showers.
Heavy storm runoff combined with ordinary household water use are more than city sewer lines can handle, the mayor said.
"It's certainly taxed our sanitary sewer system at a level that's never been done before," Huether said. "Normally we will handle about 15 million gallons of wastewater a day. Right now, we are tackling two to three times the amount that we normally would."
The biggest crisis so far came last week when heavy flows caused a sewer line in the north part of the city to collapse, and effectively dam up the Sioux Falls wastewater system. Huether said nearly a million gallons of water and sewage backed up.
"We had all that wastewater going back, and it had nowhere to go but potentially into people's basements," he said. "Our thought was that we were going to have 5,000 to 10,000 homes with sewage water in their basements. And that would have caused a major health crisis for our city."
Huether said quick work avoided that scenario. City crews dug down to the collapsed point and unplugged the stoppage, so that the water could flow again. A temporary above-ground sewer line bypass was plugged into the damaged line.
The mayor says unfortunately, some of the held-back sewage was released into the Big Sioux River. Some residents have complained about that, saying the city was turning the river into an open sewer.
But Huether defends the action, saying it prevented a damaging backup into thousands of basements. The city also had to release sewage into the Big Sioux earlier this week, when another heavy rain again overtaxed sewer lines.
Huether said that may happen again, unless the current storm system makes a detour around the city.
- All Things Considered, 08/12/2010, 5:51 p.m.