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Channeling the flood waters downtown

Robert Houk • Updated Jun 17, 2018 at 10:02 AM

Brush Creek floods. So does King Creek. In fact, Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said King Creek is much more likely to flood after a quick, heavy downpour.

But storm water mitigation work to Brush Creek that began at what is now Founders Park more than six years ago has helped control where those flood waters go. The city’s $30 million flood mitigation program began after a major incident in 2003 that convinced Johnson City leaders something must be done to address the severe flooding problem that has plagued the downtown area for more than 100 years.

“People were told in the 1910s not to build in a flood plain,” Pindzola said last week. “In the 1950s, the city installed storm water piping. That didn’t work. With urban renewal in the 1970s, a box culvert was installed on Buffalo Street. That didn’t work.”

Not Helping The Problem

Those measures and others taken to direct storm water runoff had little impact on the flooding in downtown Johnson City. Pindzola said they might even have made things  worse.

“Doing all that created a hydraulic problem in the (Buffalo Street) culvert,” Pindzola said.

He said water from Brush Creek, which at that time was flowing under a former tobacco warehouse before reaching Buffalo Street, was flooding onto Commerce Street and other areas.

Moving Storm Water

The city’s eight-phase flood mitigation program has opened and improved the flow of Brush Creek, developed catch basins and added culverts to keep surface storm water out of downtown buildings and heading to strategic places. And of course the city has created the green space at King Commons to deal with flooding from King Street.

“As a result we are better able to move water through the culvert,” Pindzola said.

It all started with Founders Park, where the green space and terraced sections not only provide flood mitigation, but serve a recreational purpose. Pindzola said the Founders Park project, along with work farther up the stream beside Commerce Street, has resulted in Brush Creek tripling its water flow capacity.

“When we see thunderstorms dump a couple of inches of rain in a short period of time, the water stays in Bush Creek because we have improved the hydraulics,” Pindzola said.

Even so, he said the city is prepared to close the green space at Founders Park when rainy periods could result in rising waters in Brush Creek. One such case came during the Blue Plum Festival earlier this month. Pindzola said a week’s worth of rain had left the great lawn very soggy, and the city feared foot traffic would damage the turf.

Overall, Pindzola said the storm water mitigation work has “drastically improved” the city’s ability to manage flood waters.

“We will never be able to totally prevent flooding, but with catch basins on the streets we are better able to direct surface water to a conveyance,” Pindzola said.

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