Radnor: Take New Approach on Stormwater Flooding

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On August 4, 2020, Radnor Township experienced another dangerous and damaging flood event, the 8th in 10 years to trap people in their homes and cars, cut off vehicle access to whole neighborhoods, and prompt dozens of 911 calls. 

Our first responders received 100+ calls for help, performed 9 water rescues, and accounted for about 24 disabled vehicles, according to Chief Flanagan's end of day video update.  The final numbers will be higher.  Homeowners and families watched again as property and landscaping was damaged and destroyed; others were caught on roads unable to reach their homes and businesses.  First responders were at very significant risk going in to floodwaters with unseeable hazards, with trees and live wires falling, as were the people they came to rescue.  

For decades, Radnor Township has known about these risks and this untenable situation.  Land use and past stormwater engineering decisions have made this worse.  Since 1970 at least 15 civil engineering firms have been paid many millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars to study the problems and suggest projects that might help.  Clearly, not enough of this professional advice has been followed.

It's time for a new approach in line with modern science and engineering principles.

The board and staff must work from an overarching township-wide strategy of sustainable drainage and natural systems that provide environmental and public health protection and safety.  We need more natural systems to manage water, and less concrete and asphalt built for cars first and people second.

We must:

1.  Decrease impervious surface by removing asphalt and cement where it is not necessary, and adjust our land use practices like parking minimums that are out of line with usage. 

2.  Decrease mown turf grass that serves no recreational purpose, and plant trees, meadows and native plants that will soak up more water and do not need constance maintenance and chemical treatment.  Examples of where this could be done are the golf driving range on Iven Avenue and areas of the Willows, or the parts of our neighborhood parks that aren't ever used as playing fields.  Mown turf grass becomes as impervious to stormwater as asphalt after 30 minutes of rain.  

3.  Increase bio-retention and green infrastructure on roadsides and in parking lot islands and other parking and road infrastructure.

4.  Increase riparian buffers along the creeks and stormwater swales and adjacent to engineered retention systems. 

All of these tactics are proven to slow stormwater runoff rates and peak volumes, and have huge ecological benefits on top of the protection of life and property they would yield.  All of these tactics are in use by smart communities around the world and have been for some time.  AMEC Engineering urged Radnor to do this in 2013 during the stormwater stakeholder advisory process, as have other engineering experts paid by Radnor. 

This can be done in a way that greatly improves township aesthetics, walkability, recreational facilities, and our local water and air quality while it eases flood risk and damage.

We urge the board of commissioners (Jack Larkin, Lisa Borowski, Sean Farhy, Moira Mulroney, Rich Booker, Jake Abel and Damien Enderle), manager (Bill White) and engineering (Steve Norcini) and community development (Kevin Kochanski) and their reports to get on the same page and adopt such a CLIMATE RESILIENT strategy. 

We urge you all to be sure that all township functions and committees and advisory boards work with this strategy in mind, including the parks and recreation board and school district facilities management office, among others.  This could be the only way forward.  No amount of new pipes and higher culverts is going to address this problem in the holistic, systemic way it must be addressed.