Editor: The Sun Gazette’s July 25 editorial mistakenly lets Arlington County government off the hook for its failure to properly manage stormwater and control flooding.
In 2018, then-County Board member John Vihstadt asked staff for the rate of increase in Arlington’s impervious surfaces (which increases stormwater runoff). With 45 percent of Arlington now paved over (a 3-percent increase within the last four years alone), we are adding 29 acres or so of impervious surfaces every 3 to 4 years.
Mirroring impervious-surface growth is the ongoing loss of mature trees, generating still more runoff that worsens flooding.
These changes are occurring not only on private property but also on public parkland, acquired decades ago for flood control. Originally intended to remain mostly undeveloped (maximizing floodwater absorption and limiting damage to built infrastructure), today our parks are subject to intense development.
Yet despite its obligation to comply with the 1965 federal Flood Control Act and these significant land-use changes, Arlington hasn’t updated its Flood Frequency Analysis since 2004.
It’s worth noting that the county’s Stormwater Detention Ordinance already requires development plans for sites in the Four Mile Run watershed (which includes most of Arlington) to “provide stormwater-detention capacity sufficient to accommodate the maximum storage required for a 100-year rainstorm.”
If needed, the county manager also has the regulatory authority to reduce the rate of stormwater release from these detention facilities to prevent flooding.
Moreover, Virginia law authorizes localities to adopt stronger stormwater-management ordinances than the State Water Control Board’s “minimum regulations” to avoid things like “excessive localized flooding within the watershed.”
Without the public and the press holding them accountable, staff and the County Board are unlikely to make necessary changes that could prevent a repeat of July 8’s catastrophic flooding.
Suzanne Smith Sundburg, Arlington