2017-12-01 / Spotlight News

City Council UPDATE: It’s long past time for flood control in Bonita Springs

By Peter R. O’Flinn
Deputy Mayor, City of Bonita Springs

Watershed for Imperial River, east of I-75, encompasses 325 square miles. Watershed for Imperial River, east of I-75, encompasses 325 square miles. With the devastating floods of Hurricane Irma, Bonita Springs suf­fered a virtual repeat of the massive flooding of 1995, when more than 1,200 of our residents were evacuated from their homes and FEMA funds built a new Imperial River bridge to replace a washed-out structure.

This year, Irma’s toll on our neighbors was far greater. More than 450 homes flooded, and flood waters lapped at the doors of another 4,000. More than 20 neigh­borhoods, gated and non-gated, were hit hard.

This summer, like 1995, was wet. Nearly 40 inches of rain fell from July through August, filling the vast Imperial River watershed east of town. Encompassing 325 square miles, it stretches from State Road 82 in the north to Lake Trafford in the east.

As you probably know, Bonita Springs flooded two weeks before Irma, as the less tidal and narrower parts of the Imperial River rose 5 feet in three days. By August 28, the US Geological Survey river gauge at Kent Road reached the historic flood stage of 13 feet. Aerial pho­tography taken after Irma shows widespread inundation east of I -75, and flooding in many neighbor­hoods along the Imperial River west of the highway.

Peter R. O’Flinn Peter R. O’Flinn The threat of flooding, unfor­tunately, is not rare. In 2013, with water levels high, Bonita Springs was barely a tropical event away from a flood. Ironically, that year some at city hall pushed, as they had for years, for large-scale housing development on long-protected land east of town, including a huge parcel that the Army Corps of Engineers had long proposed for water restora­tion. Flooding on the order of 1995, it was said, was a thing of the past in Bonita Springs. Fortuitously, the rains of 2013 subsided. The develop­ment plan was defeated.

Times have changed at Bonita Springs City Hall.

It’s obviously long past time to implement true flood control projects to protect the people of Bonita Springs.

The South Florida Water Management District, whose juris­diction includes Bonita Springs, constructs and maintains a network of sophisticated flood control structures throughout southern and Southwest Florida.

Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Bonita waterways are claimed by some to be a “natural system,” a dubious euphemism for what has turned out to be no effective flood control system at all.

Flooding in Bonita Springs after Hurricane Irma. From left, Imperial Bonita Estates, Pine Crest Lane and I-75 looking north. Flooding in Bonita Springs after Hurricane Irma. From left, Imperial Bonita Estates, Pine Crest Lane and I-75 looking north.

But there is plenty to know about what the Water Management District actually can do, and has done, to reduce flood risk. In Martin County, the pioneering Caulkins Citrus project is one of three storage facilities, called water farms, designed to hold back flood waters. In eastern Glades County, the pumped storage Nicodemus Slough project covers 16,000 acres of wetlands. In rural Miami-Dade, the District recently constructed the C-4 Emergency Detention Basin with FEMA funding to help protect the small town of Sweetwater, which flooded a few years ago. In Collier County, the District tells residents, “We have your back.” Its canal system employs ever more sophisticated control structures to take flood waters safely to tide.

Now is the time to apply first- class engineering solutions and creative thinking here.

Immediately after Irma, our mayor and colleagues on Bonita City Council took emer­gency action to hire one of the area’s true experts in watershed hydrology and one of the nation’s premier engineering firms on an expedited basis.

The goal is to develop a broad array of potential flood reduction solutions. Council member Fred Forbes, an engineer, is coordinating the effort.

The initiatives include, among others, developing a large storm water management system and filter marsh east of I-75; improving east- west connections to re-route appro­priate amounts of water to Spring Creek and Halfway Creek before it reaches the Imperial River; sending appropriate amounts of water south to the District’s control structures in Collier County; requesting that the District cancel plans to sell certain lands it owns in the watershed; and considering localized solutions for flooded neighborhoods.

City Council has been receiving regular updates on progress, and an interim Flood Reduction Plan is expected before Christmas.

Project funding requests have been sent to Tallahassee, and will be submitted for FEMA’s large Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The Bonita Springs City Council also has asked the Water Management District to begin to apply its full engineering and other resources.

The Bonita Spotlight provides this space to members of the Bonita Springs City Council for commentary on their personal views about city matters.

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