Abdul-Hagg was one of many Atlanta residents grappling with similar troubles last month.
The 90-minute storm also wreaked havoc on the Atlanta University Center where flooding in a dorm at Clark Atlanta University displaced 20 students, while others found their cars underwater or swept away. This week, a CAU senior took city leaders to task for the lack of support for students and the university community following the flooding.
In my own neighborhood, on the southeast side of the city, I watched my trash bin float down the street in a brownish river of mud and debris until it came to a stop several houses away.
Three years ago, I wrote about flooding in the same neighborhoods (as well as neighborhoods in North Fulton and Gwinnett). The cause of the flooding, according to local experts in stormwater management, was too much concrete instead of greenspaces in some areas, the outdated stormwater infrastructure and higher than average rainfall.
I noted then that slow progress in tackling the problem left residents frustrated. At the time, I thought new regulations and solutions that were underway would help bring relief, but now I worry that it won’t be fast enough.
The first time Abdul-Hagg saw the flooding, a few months after she moved to the neighborhood in 2021, she called the Department of Watershed Management. “They said they would look into it,” she said.
Abdul-Hagg began filming each time the street flooded and she posted videos on the Nextdoor app. News outlets rushed to her house for interviews. When she watched the reports on television, she heard city officials cite climate change as the reason for flooding.
Credit: Aaliyah Abdul-Haqq
Credit: Aaliyah Abdul-Haqq
More than 2,000 acres of southeast Atlanta including the neighborhoods of Peoplestown, Mechanicsville and Summerhill drain into Upper Intrenchment Creek. Even just an inch of rain results in more than 30 million gallons of stormwater flowing into the creek via storm drains, according to a 2020 report from the Intrenchment Creek One Water Management Task Force.
As my colleagues explained in the AJC’s coverage of the September storm, a warmer atmosphere brings more intense storms that can drop more water in a short amount of time. In areas where runoff can’t be absorbed, the rain collects on the pavement and overwhelms the drainage system. It’s the same problem, but now we are using the words climate change to explain why it happens.
Climate change isn’t going away anytime soon and I understood Abdul-Hagg’s frustration. City officials need to do a better job explaining to residents how they are developing stormwater solutions that will keep up with the pace of climate change.
The city of Atlanta has a plan to address infrastructure issues under decades old consent decrees. That plan includes rain gardens, bioswales — shallow trenches that naturally treat and slow runoff — and permeable pavement on certain streets in the affected area, along with a 5 million-gallon water vault under Turner Field’s former media parking lot.
In August, Mayor Andre Dickens settled a long-term standoff with Peoplestown residents who had refused to sell their homes, preventing a key piece of the solution — another underground vault and a park and pond — from moving forward. With a settlement in place, construction is expected to begin this year, city officials have said.
Atlanta was recently ranked as one of the top 10 cities most resilient to climate change in a study by Architectural Digest. The survey ranked cities on geographical risk, resilience and preparedness using key factors from government agencies and other sources.
That seemed like a cause for celebration, but then I thought, if this is how preparedness looks, we might be in trouble.
Mayor Dickens acknowledged to AJC reporters that it may be time for more investment in the sewer network. He said he asked the department of watershed to evaluate the sewer grid.
Last week, I spotted watershed trucks throughout my neighborhood. There were shovels and lots of water involved but it wasn’t clear what was happening so I reached out to the city to inquire.
I didn’t get a response before my deadline but here’s what I do know.
The city of Atlanta has engaged in a massive undertaking to address an issue that has been ongoing for decades.
But with every decade that passes, those issues will only be exacerbated by climate change and the city needs to be nimble enough to change with it.
Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at email@example.com.