Jan 10, 2024 - News

Atlanta urban flooding prompts closer look at stormwater

Illustration of 3D letters of "404" floating in water.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Tuesday's severe thunderstorms overwhelmed Atlanta's drains and muddied up yards, underscoring how stressed Atlanta's infrastructure is to handle urban flooding.

Why it matters: Atlanta's no stranger to flooding. But thanks to climate change, city officials and researchers say, Atlanta can expect heavier deluges pouring into drains and emptying into creeks.

  • City officials are exploring new ways to manage the large volume of water, including whether a new dedicated fee could pay for the infrastructure to prevent flooding.

Zoom in: Mix torrential downpours, an overburdened stormwater system, Atlanta's more than 1,400 miles of streets and untold acres of parking lots and rooftops, and you've created a cocktail for flooding in roads, creeks and yards.

By the numbers: One inch of rain can send 35 million gallons of stormwater into southeast Atlanta's Intrenchment Creek, according to a 2020 study by the Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force.

Flashback: In September, a storm flooded dorms at Clark Atlanta University and submerged cars in low-lying parking lots near Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The high-profile incident rallied council members Jason Winston and Jason Dozier to explore possible solutions.

  • Almost 14 years ago to the day, roughly seven days of intense rain caused historic flooding, swelling Peachtree Creek to rise to the backyard decks of Buckhead residents.

Of note: Though stormwater flooding occurs throughout Atlanta, several historically Black neighborhoods like English Avenue and Pittsburgh are more vulnerable to flooding and extreme heat, according to a recent study commissioned by Council members Liliana Bakhtiari and Matt Westmoreland.

Catch up quick: Atlanta's watershed department spends millions of dollars every year on stormwater projects and spot repairs. The division has created stormwater ponds that double as the centerpieces of new public spaces like Historic Fourth Ward Park and Cook Park.

Yes, and: The city's built underground storage vaults around Atlanta, including in a parking lot south of Center Parc Stadium in Peoplestown, which has faced persistent flooding.

  • The city plans to start construction soon on a $72 million park several blocks away that will include an 18 million gallon underground tank to store water.

What we're watching: Watershed commissioner Mikita Browning told council members during a November work session that her team was studying stormwater utility fees.

  • Planning commissioner Jahnee Prince said she'd love to see developments use less paving. Some tools, such as brick-like pavers, could allow water to seep back into the ground.
  • Browning said the department's update to the stormwater ordinance, which they'll share with Atlanta's developers and builders, is in the works.

In the weeds: Watershed is also creating an in-house team to design stormwater projects, which could allow the department to address issues faster, Browning said during an early December meeting.

The bottom line: Left unaddressed, stormwater poses a long-term environmental and legal risk, eroding the quality of life in neighborhoods rich, poor and everywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum in between.


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