It’s been a historic year for rainfall in Starkville.
The city has been bombarded by heavy rains through the winter and spring, including a series of significant rain events in April that led to flooding throughout town. Now the city, prompted in part by flooding issues in the Country Club Estates neighborhood on South Montgomery that’s seen stormwater get into houses, is looking at ways to deal with excess runoff from heavy rains.
John Moore, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Jackson, told The Dispatch an observer station at Mississippi State University has recorded 42.49 inches of rainfall in through May 21 — well above the 23.94 inches that would be expected for this time of year.
Moore added that this year’s year-to-date rainfall total is the second highest the station has reported since it began recording rainfall data in 1891. It’s only three inches behind the 45.4 inches reported in the same period in 1983.
Even without those figures available at Tuesday’s board meeting, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said this year’s rains have been different from normal.
“We’re seeing — I don’t know if this is accurate — but probably 100-year type levels,” Carver said. “Things are happening, I’ve seen, in Ward 1, in areas that don’t normally flood.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill told The Dispatch that while this year’s rainfall totals might be lower than those in 1983, the city is far more developed now than it was in the 1980s. That, with continuing development, may exacerbate issues.
For example, a video City Engineer Edward Kemp showed during Tuesday’s meeting showed an underground storm drain that was nearly completely clogged with runoff silt dirt from the construction in Country Club Estates.
The city may take a multi-pronged approach in addressing its stormwater issues.
Earlier this month, aldermen approved a contract of up to $2,400 with River Science, LLC, to conduct a runoff and detention analysis of the Country Club Estates Phase III development.
Spruill said she hopes to use that study as a launching point to look at other areas of the city.
“I’d like to see what it might cost us to do a study of those basins,” she said. “I want to go back and look at areas that may or may not be problem areas. I want to identify all those problem areas.”
Spruill said the city, when it created its stormwater ordinance about 10 years ago, looked into creating a stormwater management fee to help mitigate the effects of excess rainwater. However, at the time, the city got an attorney general’s opinion that such a fee would be viewed as a tax, which would have to be approved through the state Legislature. Stormwater management fees, which have been employed in other states, are assessed to property owners and used to help fund stormwater infrastructure projects or maintenance.
Spruill said she’s had some early discussions with District 41 Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville) and the Mississippi Municipal League about finding some way to create a support structure for funding for cities to address stormwater issues.
“I am delighted to revisit that issue because I do think it’s a citywide issue we need to look at,” Spruill said. “I think (City Attorney Chris Latimer) can help us sort our way through that.”
Possible code changes
The city is also building stronger requirements for stormwater detention into its development code rewrite. The code lays out regulations for zoning and land type designations, as well as the processes and guidelines for building new developments or altering existing ones.
In the proposed rewrite, the city would increase its requirements for developments to have to retain enough water from 100-year events, rather than the two- or 10-year events the code currently requires.
“Year” events are determined by the likelihood of a particular amount of rainfall falling at a location in any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For example, a two-year event has a 50-percent chance of happening in any year, and a 10-year event has a 10-percent chance. A 100-year event has a 1-percent chance of happening at a location in a given year.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said the city, a few years ago, considered building in a requirement that would have given a buffer to natural creeks to allow room to flood without impacting developments as severely. However, he said the idea got a lot of pushback and was ultimately removed from the comprehensive plan.
However, Walker said that’s also something that might be up for reconsidering as the city continues to grow.
“Because of the rain events we’ve had this year and the increase of 20 inches or so above the average of where we are, I think the public’s appetite might be changing a bit for how we deal with that,” Walker said. “While I hope this doesn’t happen as frequently, I believe we’re in more of a transition where we’re going to have a lot more rain, a lot more often and a lot more intense like you might have in a coastal type of environment.”
Walker pointed out that it’s taken a long time for Starkville’s stormwater system to reach the condition it has, and it’s going to take time to address the problems. He said there’s not a single “silver bullet” to fix the issues.
“Starkville has been around since 1835,” he said. “We’ve had a stormwater ordinance for 10 (years). There was a lot of development that happened in our community before that and a lot of things that were done are not how we would design or do them today.
“There’s a big web,” Walker continued. “There’s a big web to try to comb through and untangle to try to solve those problems.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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