A deluge drenched the Washington, D.C., region Sept. 10, 2020, transforming trickling creeks into raging rivers and flooding low-lying roadways and neighborhoods.
Along the inner-Beltway Route 1 corridor in Prince George’s County, officials in College Park, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, Brentwood, North Brentwood and Mount Rainier told Route 1 Reporter of major flooding events in their respective cities. According to the Capitol Weather Gang, cities in this area received the highest total rainfall across the entire region during the day. Mount Rainier and College Park rainfall was estimated to be between three and four inches of rain as of 3:40 p.m.
In North Brentwood, an historically African American community founded by Black Civil War veterans and whose flood-prone location is chained to the legacy of Jim Crow racial segregation, floodwaters persisted on city streets hours after rains left the area. At around 6 p.m., Route 1 Reporter saw Prince George’s County Department of Public Works officials inspecting a lingering pool of water that inundated areas near Allison Street’s intersections with 39th and 40th avenues. This stretch of road is the closest road to parallel the levee that protects North Brentwood from the Northwest Branch. At its height, the waters covered yards across almost the entire northern section of town, according to Mayor Petrella Robinson.
“Everybody took a beating today,” said Nathaniel Freeman, a North Brentwood Allison Street resident of 28 years. “Within the last five years, it’s been getting worse every time it rains.”
Corey Fisher, who recently bought his home at 39th and Allison street, saw the first floor of his home – which is at ground level – flooded by 2 inches of water.
‘People kept driving down the street and washing more water into the house,” said Fisher. “We were trying to yell at people to not drive down our street.”
Similarly, low-lying areas of Brentwood and Mount Rainier were drenched by floods.
“We really need to focus on storm-water management,” said Brentwood Vice Mayor Tonya Harrison in an email. “The pollutants and debris as well as the muddy water was criminal.”
Mount Rainier had to cancel recycling collection scheduled for Friday after floods damaged the city’s Public Works facility, which is located in a small hollow on the south side of town.
Most-troublingly for Mount Rainier – the still-under-construction levee along Arundel Road was nearly overtopped by the floods, according to video shared on a town Facebook discussion group by Sarah Goates Christopherson. This Army Corps of Engineers levee protects the neighborhood from floodwaters that can rise from a normally-nearly-dry concrete-lined tributary of the Northwest Branch. Just downstream, the video also showed the floodwaters cresting the roadway of the newly-built Chillum Road bridge, constructed as part of the levee project.
In southern College Park, the Calvert Hills neighborhood was particularly hard-hit, with floodwaters inundating some streets with up to four feet of water, according to City Councilor John Rigg, who represents the area. The flooding here raised old complaints from residents and city elected officials about the long-planned, yet-to-be-built Calvert Hills Drainage Improvement Project, a Prince Georges’s County Department of the Environment project to address longstanding flooding issues in the low-laid neighborhood. The project finally got into the county’s current budget, but a construction start-date has not been announced.
“Several neighbors had feet of stormwater in their basement, and many cars (including my own) were damaged,” said Rigg in an email. “This is especially tragic in light of Prince George’s County’s foot-dragging on the stormwater management project for Calvert Hills, which has been in the planning stages for a decade but which has still not broken ground.”
Similarly, College Park Mayor Patrick pushed county officials to speed up the project.
“Over the past decade, College Park has been asking Prince George’s County to fully fix the flooding issues in this neighborhood, and while this project is in the County FY 2021 budget, we do not know when construction will begin,” said Wojahn in an email. “It is time that the County move forward with this so that Calvert Hills residents no longer have to deal with the constant loss of property and threat to health and safety from this recurrent flooding.”
While most of developed Hyattsville is built on high ground away from local streams, many residents in central Hyattsville reported substantial flooding and runoff. According to Hyattsville City Councilor Danny Schaible, neighbors of construction sites were particularly hard-hit.
“The Sacred Heart redevelopment site again produced significant runoff of sediment laden water, resulting in what one Hyattsville resident referred to as ‘a chocolate river’,” said Schaible. “The lower lot of the WSSC property, which is unfortunately slated for townhouse development pending ongoing litigation, had an ephemeral river appear in the center of the property that appeared to be around 50 feet wide and over a foot deep.”