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Monday, August 22, 2011

Flooding in Sparta, Mich., Leads to Questions About City Drain Maintenance (ContributorNetwork)

On Saturday, the National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings, but the county that suffered the worst flooding wasn't even on the warning list: Sparta in Kent County. The flooding seems to have been caused by poor drain maintenance. Most of southwest lower Michigan was deluged in the torrential weekend rain. Sparta residents got hit with as much as four feet of flood water.

WZZM interviewed homeowners who had been pumping water from basements and crawl spaces. They say this was not the first time this summer that they were flooded. They had just begun to dry out from flooding several weeks ago. Although rain in west Michigan was heavy, it was not intense enough to create the amount of flooding experienced in Sparta. Residents fault poor drainage systems, lack of drain maintenance and drains filled with debris for the flooding.

Sparta residents are frustrated, not only by the damage and loss of property, but also the amount of labor it takes to clean up after a flood. One resident expressed concern that his furnace might be damaged. The City of Sparta has asked residents attend the next city council meeting to address flood damage issues.

Hunting up resources for floods, websites for flood insurance kept appearing. Even Floodsmart.gov, a government emergency preparedness site, promotes flood insurance for homeowners. Home insurance is expensive enough. Like vehicle insurance, homeowners insurance is as much about liability coverage as it is about property damage restitution. Oftentimes, the deductibles are so steep with homeowners' insurance that most people don't submit claims unless disaster befalls.

It doesn't make sense that Michigan residents should have to purchase additional flood insurance when flash floods don't affect most homeowners. Those who live directly on the Grand River or another Michigan river, may need to add flood coverage. Flooding like the kind that occurred in Sparta is not conditional for residents. Even the NWS did not put Sparta or Kent under flood watch. This shows that the flooding was not a predictable weather condition. These floods waters occurred as a result of poor city maintenance and lack of emergency preparedness on the drain commission's part.

Also, if residents purchase additional homeowners insurance, it sometimes gives city officials an excuse to avoid their own responsibilities. Property taxes are supposed to pay for city services, including upkeep, repair and maintenance. Homeowners should not have to pay extra to protect against damage caused by lack of preventative maintenance at city structures.

Residents in flooded areas are reminded to observe these basic safety precautions. Pedestrians should avoid flood waters. Six inches of water is enough to sweep a person off his feet. Heavy rain can cause soil erosion and unstable terrain. Motorists should avoid flood waters and be on the lookout for falling tree branches and flying debris. Flood waters of two feet can sweep a car away. Car tires can easily embed in mud and wet sand.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about weather from 25 years teaching environmental, life and earth science.


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