Increase in development puts strain on city’s drainage system

Mark Autrey, with the Curry County Road Department, digs out a path on Friday for the water drainage line between Sugarbeet and Humphrey Road. ( CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Budget cuts, developments sprouting like mushrooms, and a year of heavy rain have exacerbated drainage problems in Clovis.

Tack on an all-but-flat terrain and the flooding of homes this summer and city officials are somewhat torn — between the advice of their public works director and that of area developers.

At a Jan. 22 meeting, city commissioners accepted a $50,000 impact fee to manage storm water from Copper Manor II, a 38-lot subdivision near the intersection of Norris and Enloe streets.

Accepting an impact fee to manage a development’s storm water is a first for the city, and was done so against the recommendation of Public Works Director Harry Wang.

Wang said an intersection about six blocks south of the development is handling all the water it can during severe storms. That intersection will now have to handle an additional 23 percent of water from Copper Manor.

“By allowing them not to comply with the rules and accept insufficient money is wrong,” Wang said. “(City officials are) sacrificing the public well-being for this special interest group. When it floods the city will hear from those residents.”

Local engineer Chad Lydick and area developers see things differently. The fee, Lydick said, was based on 23 percent of the costs to run an underground pipe south of the low-lying areas.

Lydick believes the city should provide a safe channel for water once it flows from area developments, one that won’t flood homes in its wake.

“I’m not saying the city should bear this burden alone. The developers realize the responsibility of the runoff generated from their site is theirs, but they would hope to have the option to where they can either retain it on site or pay an impact fee to the city to accept that burden,” Lydick said. “I’m not against retention, I am for it. I think it’s just a part of growing.”

But according to Wang, it’s not that simple.

Storm-water management is, in essence, the problem of the developer, who needs to have a plan to either retain water on site or channel it in a way that will minimize the flooding of low-lying homes, Wang believes. Any water that could potentially flood developments downstream needs to be accounted for in the plan.

“This fight is getting worse and worse …” Wang said. “In other communities the developer has to be responsible for (storm-water) runoff.”

To an extent Wang is right. Most communities — including Roswell and Hobbs — make developers deal with potential flooding they may cause to areas downstream.

In Roswell, developers must make sure downstream effects are no different before and after development.

There are several ways to do that, one being an on-site retention pond. City officials have been critical of retention ponds in the past, saying they attract mosquitoes, can be unsightly and unsafe.

But City Manager Joe Thomas said if properly made, retention ponds are not the “mean, ugly monsters people make them out to be.”

“If they’re constructed and designed right they’re not bad, and don’t hold water for more than few days …” Thomas said.

The Roswell City Commission will vote this week on an ordinance that if passed would require retention ponds must to be drained within five days of a rain. If the ponds are not barren after five days, the developer would have to drain it, something Roswell City Engineer David Storey said he supports.

But Storey cautioned that comparing Clovis and Roswell is not necessary fair. After all, Roswell has different landscape and rivers nearby.

“We are fortunate in some respects being that there are two rivers nearby,” he said. “We have a pretty good underground storm-water drainage system but its not extensive throughout the whole city.”

Storey said even with a huge year for rain in 2004 there was no major flooding in Roswell. That’s not the case in Clovis.

In October, Donna Quinn of the local law office Quinn and Quinn filed a tort claim against the city seeking compensation for flooding to two homes on July 24-25 on Remuda Drive.

According to the complaint, which was also filed on behalf of a neighboring family that experienced flooding, the Quinns are seeking money for damages from flooding to the entire downstairs of their home, which includes “replacing wooden floors, tile, sheet rock and other damaged property.”

The claim also asserts that developers building to the northeast “should have constructed a retainment pond or diversion channel” to divert water away from their property.

Since then the city has earmarked about $50,000 to go toward a retention pond in the area to curb flooding near the Remuda Subdivision.

The claim also alleges the Remuda Subdivision is accepting too much water from another subdivision built before last year, when the city started drainage requirements for commercial and residential developers. Beyond that, the subdivision was approved before it was annexed into city limits.

Flooding in Remuda is evidence to a broader issue and is the result of Clovis waiting too long to develop storm-water requirements, Wang said.

Now the city is playing catch-up, he said.

Moreover, Wang said the City Commission’s storm-water drainage tax of 1/4 of a percent tax was changed to 1/16 of a percent of a percent in 1997, when the City Commission passed a 1.5 mill tax to help fund a variety of drainage projects.

The taxes generate about $800,000 a year, but about $600,000 of that money goes to pay off a $5 million bond for the 1997 projects.

City Finance Director Don Clifton said there’s between $150,000 and $200,000 of expendable money annually for storm-water management.

Wang said that’s not enough, and Lydick questioned why City Commissioners reduced the storm-water allocations generated by the 1/4 percent tax.

“They shouldn’t have done that,” Lydick said. “It’s hard to get the money when you keep dipping into the fund.”

It would cost many millions of dollars, for example, to create a citywide underground drainage system — a master plan the city has been working toward for almost 15 years.

If city officials want drainage to be a city problem, then Wang is recommending a monthly storm-water fee from home owners, somewhere between $2 and $11.

Otherwise, there are several ways developers can help retain water on site. Retention ponds can work, Wang said, but what is more appealing is the idea of retaining water in front and back yards with dips and contours in construction which are relatively inexpensive.

The problem, Wang said, is no developer has tried that method, called low-impact, in Clovis.

“Low-impact would reduce costs … with swails in lawns, (ect.),” Wang said. “If we had all the money in world we could do pipelines underground throughout the city and transport water to the nearest playa lake. But the funds aren’t there for that type of project.”