01/14/07 — Duplin commission takes aim at county's drainage problems

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Duplin commission takes aim at county's drainage problems

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 14, 2007 10:31 AM

Every two weeks the refrain at the Duplin County Board of Commissioners meeting is the same -- water is standing in people's yards and across the roads and it's a worse problem than ever before.

It's a complaint the commissioners have heard and, after directing county staff to create a countywide master drainage plan, it's one they have taken to heart to try to solve.

The only obstacle is that it might not be an easily solvable problem.

"This is in the infant stages, but the commissioners have asked us to develop a drainage plan for the entire county -- to lay out some of the problems and some of the solutions to those," said Eric West, a state Natural Resource Conserva-tion Service conservationist. "You have natural events that have occurred such as hurricanes, storms and beavers. You have regulations restricting what you can do in the creeks and streams and you have changing land uses."

Each of those, he explained, adds to the problem.

In particular, three of the main causes of flooding are the heavy rains that wash sediment into the county's creeks, streams and ditches, the severe storms that fill them up with fallen trees and other debris and the beaver dams that stop the flow of water.

"A lot of it is past storms blowing trees over and nothing being done to remove them," West said. "(The beavers) also are a chronic problem ever since they were reintroduced.

"Those restrict the flow of water and change the depth of the stream or creek."

When that happens, he continued, and when the county experiences the heavy, quick rains like it did with Tropical Storm Ernesto and the more recent nor'easter, "(the water) is going to start backing up on somebody."

It's because of those two recent storm events, county planning director Randall Tyndall added, that the flooding seems worse than usual.

"We don't have that many stormwater issues," he said. "But out in the county we've noticed more (problems) since the flooding we had in September."

Tropical Storm Ernesto was considered a 100-year flood event and the nor'easter was a 50-year flood event.

But while there's no precise record of where flooding has occurred -- 25 percent to 30 percent of the county is considered to be in the flood plain -- it doesn't seem to have been a countywide event.

"I don't know how widespread the problem is," West said. "To me, it's mostly in the northeastern Cape Fear basin around Chinquapin. That's the main outlet for the county as far as drainage."

Future solutions to the problem, he continued, are about the same as what the county's doing now -- using what little manpower there is to respond to locations of beaver dams and debris clogs and manually remove them.

Another solution, DOT district maintenance engineer Jerri Parker said, is for people to keep any outfall ditches, creeks and streams on their property clean. All DOT can do is replace their undersized crosslines and keep their road ditches clean.

But in the end, Tyndall said, it's simply a problem that's hard to stay on top of.

"We had a massive cleanout after Hurricane Floyd and it's taken this five- to six-year cycle for things to build up again. Then this year we've had Tropical Storm Ernesto and this nor'easter and we've just had an enormous amount of rain in both cases. When you have that much rain it just overwhelms the system," he said. "Duplin County is not unique.

"Wayne County has some drainage issues and Pender County has some drainage issues. None of us can control the weather, and we have some things we haven't gotten around to doing yet."

And because of those difficulties and because of the changing face of Duplin County and its land uses, West added, people should not expect the land drain as it did 20, 15, 10, even five years ago.

"As things change you just have to kind of adapt," he said.