Lessons from the flood

For a couple hours on Saturday, Lynn residents and a few of their neighbors experienced a fraction of the misery people in the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas endured last month after hurricanes crashed through their communities and homes.

The early morning flash flooding triggered by almost four inches of rain swamped cars, inundated homes and businesses and left more than 800 West Lynn residents without power for most of the day.

Order and normalcy returned, for the most part, by Sunday morning along with the sun. But the Saturday storm provided a glimpse of the wrath Nature visited on subtropical residents in September and raised short and long-term questions that should be pondered and answered.

The Saturday downpour quickly overwhelmed rainwater catch basins on Boston, Ford, Munroe and other streets. Early fall leaves and trash clogged the drains and flood water quickly rose past curbs and surged into doorways.

The city has a well-publicized and regular street sweeping program that includes downtown, but it cannot be effective unless drivers obey signs and move cars off the street to allow sweepers to get debris off local streets.

Public Works employees braved knee-high water to clear catch basins and drains on Saturday at the height of the storm. But their efforts were too late: The floods had already done its damage.

On the drawing board at least, the ideal plan for getting flood water off local streets before a deluge does damage is to fully expand the partial network of separate storm and sewer drainage systems.

East Lynn and other sections of the city have separate storm and sewer systems. Built at the cost of millions of dollars, the systems prevent the sewage treatment plants on Commercial Street extension from becoming overwhelmed by rainwater and unable to process and treat sewage.

The Lynn Water and Sewer Commission is under federal orders to eliminate the discharge of partially-treated sewage into the ocean by expanding separate storm and sewer drain systems or devising other solutions for preventing rainwater from overtaxing the treatment plants.

West Lynn City Councilors who have seen Alley, Bennett and West Lynn side streets like Light Street flooded during heavy rains want any Commission plan for addressing the federal order coupled with flood relief measures.

To date, the Commission has juggled the flood relief demands and the pressure to meet the federal mandate without fully addressing either concern. Plans are moving forward even as the town of Swampscott addresses its own sewage infrastructure concerns, but there is no avoiding the fact that minimizing floods is an expensive proposition.

Fortunately, events like Saturday’s torrential storm are infrequent and they serve as reminders for property owners to make flood prevention preparations and to appreciate the challenges faced by people who bear the full brunt of devastating floods.

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