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Posted on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 3:55 p.m.

Stormwater runoff swamps Ann Arbor neighborhoods

By Brian Vernellis

For years, residents on Village Oaks Court and Chaucer Drive have tried getting the attention of Ann Arbor city development officials and engineers to address a growing concern.

Homeowners say nearby residential development has created a mess as stormwater runoff from neighborhoods north of their homes collects in a drainage trough bisecting their backyards.


Larry Fingerle sifts through the remains of his basement after stormwater runoff flooded his home early Sunday.

Brian Vernellis |

When heavy storms hit the area, as they did Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the drainage system is overwhelmed. It creates a raging river through their yards and threatens their properties.

"The city designed it to flow over the ground to some extent, but not like this,” said resident Mae Herold, pointing to the water-line marks along her home’s foundation.

Jerry Hancock, the city's stormwater and floodplain program coordinator, said there’s little the city can do.

“In the last couple of years we did a detention basin inventory, and we didn’t find anything to be out of compliance out there,” Hancock said. “That’s why I don’t think there’s a lot the city can do because the developments went in, they followed their site plan, they put in their detentions.”

The massive storms that dumped nearly 2-½ inches of rain in some parts of the city created flooding problems for many commercial and residential areas.

The Service and Program Center of the Great Sauk Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America had nearly 2 feet of water in its offices. Council officials estimated the damage to be extensive to the floor and walls, computers, servers and files.

Residents of the Pittsfield Village condominiums at 2220 Pittsfield Blvd. also experienced significant damage due to flooding.

And condo owners Ingrid and Jeremy Zeigler at Walden Hills II on Pauline Boulevard had 6 inches of storm water swamp their low-level unit, seeping through their windows and bursting through a wall.

“We haven’t been contacted by the condo association that’s supposed to be dealing with us,” Jeremy Zeigler said. “We’re trying to figure out who's going to take care of what. It’s been all through the building maintenance guy.

“We’ve repeatedly told them about issues, and it’s been more of a Band-Aid repair. We feel we deserve a little more than new carpeting and new walls.”

Larry and Linda Fingerle also are looking for answers. The Fingerles moved into their house on Chaucer Drive in 1986, but didn’t begin to see problems with their backyard until development started north of them.

By the time Mae Herold and her husband Art moved into their house in 2002, the rising backyard water had become more frequent.

“With the first flood, we thought something was wrong, and the city engineers came out and explained to us that this is intentional,” Art Herold said. “The water is supposed to flood on the top when the piping underneath gets maxed out.

“But what doesn’t figure into this, and for which they have no answer and for which they have been unresponsive, is that there are times when this gets so overwhelmed that the water doesn’t stay in this trough. It comes up to people’s houses. People’s houses act as the barriers, the levees.”


A guitar ruined by a flood of stormwater rests in Larry Fingerle's garage.

Courtesy of Art Herold.

Larry Fingerle said he feels lucky he escaped his basement alive. As the storms raged, Fingerle was in the basement checking his sump pump to ensure it could handle the rising water.

Shortly after midnight, the water covered his backyard and reached his house. The water pressure built against a low-level window, causing it to shatter and pour gallons of rainwater into his basement. Fingerle dashed for the stairs, fearful of getting hit by debris or being electrocuted.

“It’s surreal,” Fingerle said. “It’s like the port windows exploding in the Titanic movies. You’re sitting there minding your own business or attending to whatever issues you have, and then the problems are a million times worst than what you thought they were because your life is in danger at that point.”

The water rushed in and came within four steps of reaching the Fingerles’ living area. By Sunday morning, 7 feet of water was in their basement.

The first pump crew they called wasn't equipped to handle the huge volume of water. A second crew arrived and pumped out 70,000 gallons in about six hours.

Fingerle estimated he lost several thousands of dollars of audio and video equipment he stored in his basement.

“If their basement holds 70,000 gallons of water, there are several hundred thousand that flow through our yards,” Mae Herold said. “It’s not always this bad, but it’s frequently bad, and we’ve raised this issue with the city a number of times.”

In the eight years since moving in, the Herolds estimate the backyards have flooded three or four times, but nothing as serious as what happened over the weekend.

Their frustrations mount, but Hancock asserts the developments aren't the cause of the problem.

“Their belief was that these developments that are upstream of this house have caused the problem,” Hancock said. “While I think those developments would contribute to the problem, the cause of the problem is the location of the house.”

View a map of local storm water damage and add your own details:

View June 5/6, 2010 storm water damage around Ann Arbor in a larger map



Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

What Adam said... We pay to dump or sewage into the sewage system. Because we pay for the privilege, the people(our city) we pay should maintain the system so it does not use our basements as catch basins. But in some cases houses were built to low to protect from high water. When and if I have the perimeter drains taken off the sewage system, I will not have them connected directly to the storm drains as I have seen people doing in my neighborhood. I will have it run so the water flows down my driveway, then into the street to the storm sewer. I would not ban sofas on porches, I would tax them at $1000 per year, landlord pays.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 3 a.m.

So, Let me get this straight. The comments about the ban of ugly old sofa's on front porches prompts a huge "too much government" response and yet the tone here is come on government save my basement?


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

Here seems to be the situation with regards to basement flooding - at least in the Lawton School area: Before the drain disconnect, some folks had flooding in their basement after a very heavy rain. Many did not. In this case, it was the sanitary system which got overloaded. After the drain disconnect, some folks have flooding in their basement after a very heavy rain. Many do not. In this case it is the storm drainage system which gets overloaded. The cost to disconnect and install a sump pump was roughly $3500 in 2002. The city paid for this, with funds coming from I don't know where. Presumably some taxpayers somewhere in the United States.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 1:36 p.m.

Asking a question. I notice that many of the sump pumps being installed in my area (Duncan far west side) are being hooked directly into the storm drains? The contractor digs out to the street from the house, digs a hole in the street and hooks to the storm sewer, I think. Wouldn't it make sense to just run a drain from the house down the driveway and let the water run into the street then into the storm drain? If the house is connected directly to the storm drain, when the storm drain is full, the basement starts to fill also?

Jeannette Gutierrez

Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 11:46 a.m.

Jerry Hancock's comments are telling: Their belief was that these developments that are upstream of this house have caused the problem, Hancock said. While I think those developments would contribute to the problem, the cause of the problem is the location of the house. Same for the oil gusher threatening the gulf. While BP contributed to the problem, the cause of the destruction is the location of all those turtle and pelicans. My house has been in its location on Mulholland Strett for close to 100 years. I've lived here for 25 of those 100 years. Water was not a problem here until about 5 years ago. At about the same time, the city suddenly decides my property is a designated flood plain, and I am officially required to accommodate the city's floodwaters regardless of damage to my property and risk to my life (as per Larry Fingerle's close call). The amount of water and damage increases every year. Quite convenient for the city. The Tennessee Valley Authority at least bought out the homesteaders in it's path. Is anybody contacting lawyers about this? Count me in.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 10:57 a.m.

Ms. Murray's first link is broken, because of the comma she put immediately after it. An easier url that goes to the same page is


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 10:22 a.m.

We had our footing drain disconnected in 2002. We opted for a water backup system in the event of a power outage, at a cost to us of $725. While the city paid for the sump pump installation, it would not pay for the backup, since as I understand it a backup was not required by code. The water backup system works OK, but is really noisy. We had to have the backup pump check valve and diaphragm replaced in 2006 at a significant cost to us, and we can expect to have to pay for this again when it wears out.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 9:51 a.m.

No water problems here in our NE Ann Arbor home --yet. I didn't purchase the rather pricy back-up sump system but I think I am operating on borrowed time. We are on "high ground" plus experience in my previous house in Pittsfield Township convinced me I was OK. Now I'm not so sure. The pump runs continuously in January and February plus we've had two power outages so far this year.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

On the whole drain disconnect plan: 1. Why is the city forcing the installation of systems that will fill a basement in event of power failure? 2. What calculations where performed to show a single sump pump can drain all homes? What square footage of house? What precipitation numbers were used: typical, 50 year or 100 year? 3. Why are homeowners not allowed to have the sump pump as the primary drain and the gravity feed sanitary sewer as backup? It would appear the city took the cheap route of placing the risk on the homeowner. I would like to see the large number of flooded basements from this weekend addressed in City Council.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

I have been dealing with the city for over 20 years concerning their stormwater run off. They (the city) always blames the homeowner for the placement of the house. Where were the city inspectors when the homes were built? Who give approvals to housing projects? Does anyone study these types of things before developers are allowed to increase houses areas? The city always "complies" with rules and regulations that they make so, good luck dealing with them. You'll receive no help what so ever.

Caleb rutan

Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 8:26 a.m.

Our house in is ypsi township, right along the upper paint creek storm drain system, and we had significant flooding outside because the storm drain gratings got plugged with debris. My neighbor and I were in waist deep water unclogging them Saturday night. The water had washed decorative rock, trash, sticks, you name it onto the grates. It was a real mess. Once we got them clear, they drained the water quickly, but not before it filled our drainage around the house and got into one of our carpets. I spoke with county drain commission folks Monday, and they're going to keep these on their watch list from now on. This seems to have been an exceptional spring in terms of precipitation. Where are we in terms of amounts?

Alan Benard

Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

This story buries the lede. From the last paragraph: While I think those developments would contribute to the problem, the cause of the problem is the location of the house.We need higher density development in higher elevations, and an end to building in floodplains and valleys. Which is the city's overall development goal. Which its NIMBY residents subvert at every turn.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 7:17 a.m.

I spoke with several neighbors in the Lawton School area after the storm. Some were flooded, some not. One had sump pumps which worked, and the basement was still flooded.

Mature Townie

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 10:38 p.m.

Our condo basement in NE Ann Arbor had many storm water and 2 sewage backups. After the City of Ann Arbor unhooked the sanitary drain from the storm water run off drain, called the "footing drain disconnect," program. We have had no basement floods when there are heavy rains. We are very sorry for the folks going through this mess. We used to put everything in our basement up on pallets and run downstairs to check, when it would rain hard!

Seasoned Cit

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 10:06 p.m.

How about a report from the City on the success of the Water retention project that had the lawn at Pioneer dug up since fall. Did it work during the storm last week and did it help reduce flooding? Sure hope so for all that it cost.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 7:55 p.m.

This is in the Mallets Creek watershed, and the county developed and implmented a creek restoration plan a few years ago. The main focus of the plan was on improving water quality and natural conditions in the creek, but one major step in that direction is better management of storm water. There is a Malletts Creek Association that residents might want to join, or at least get on the mailing list for. The county website has several pages describing restoration efforts and giving contact information for the Association. The reconstruction of the storm water basin next to Brown Park (now Mary Beth Doyle Park) was part of this process.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 7:49 p.m.

I took a morning walk down Iroquois today and saw about 10 piles of what looked like flood-related debris out on people's curbs. And that's in about three blocks. Our neighbor in Pine Valley also had a flooded basement, which doesn't occur much in this neighborhood.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 7:28 p.m.

There were many wet basements in the Ivywood/Dartmoor area, including professional mitigation help for at least one. Rain gage showed > 3 inches of rain for the night. Ironic that the city drain tile disconnect actually poses a great risk of flooding as any house without a backup sump system (backup was not required by the city) will flood during a power outage. My best to all of those that are recovering. What are some resources for home/condo owners looking for help from the City/County for these situations? (either to fix systemic sewer issues or to push a management company for fixes)


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

How about using Google maps to indicate locations mentioned in stories?


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 5:17 p.m.

Briarcrest Condos off S. Main near the mall had significant flooding in the parking lots on Sunday around 2am, many cars were damaged, the complex's club house/pool area was heavily damaged.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

"Larry and Linda Fingerle also are looking for answers. The Fingerles moved into their house on Chaucer Drive in 1986, but didnt begin to see problems with their backyard until development started north of them" It is unfortunate that this has happened to these folks...but maybe it's bad karma because the development in that area stopped 7th street from going all the way thru to AnnArbor-Saline road as it was intended???


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 3:30 p.m.

I am surprised how much these stories sound like mine! I had never experienced or even heard about water busting windows and pushing through walls. I live in the Village, and my basement flooded both from the sewer overflowing and from water busting through the basement wall! Holes just started busting through and I tried to stop the water with pots and putting my fingers in them like the little Dutch boy. Eventually, there were too many to cover! I started sticking pencils in them! Then it just seemed like the whole wall was leaking. What a storm!