Ready for the rain

Golf carts pass through the golf cart tunnel under Morse Boulevard near Havana Country Club.

One year after Hurricane Irma put local water officials to the test, agencies are refining their preparedness and response plans to meet Florida’s storm season head-on. 

Irma, a category 4 storm at landfall, exceeded the community’s worst-case scenario design for stormwater management, acknowledged new District Manager Richard Baier, who assumed the post this summer. The storm dumped an unprecedented 12 to 16 inches of rain in about 18 hours into a system built to withstand about 10 inches of rain in 24 hours.  It came after 30 inches of above-average rainfall for June, July and August, leading to flooding of golf courses, parks near retention ponds and a few streets.

Although no flooding was reported from any residential or commercial properties last year, Baier told the Daily Sun that “we are revising operating policies that allow us to do even better.”

For example, crews will start an early draw-down of a retention pond in the Village of Chatham, sometimes referred to as “Lake Chatham,” now that they are aware of its extremely large watershed basin, Baier said.

Also, about $800,000 in capital improvements include five new pipe projects, generator purchases for lift stations and other improvements to the stormwater management system, he said.

The system is monitored daily to ensure flood protection by Trey Arnett,  president of Arnett Engineering, The Villages’ water resource engineer.

“The Villages has an extensive network of retention basins and pumping facilities that allow for aggressive stormwater management during extreme events such as Hurricane Irma,” Arnett said. “In all but the oldest areas of The Villages, the retention basins are designed to retain stormwater runoff from a 100-year event, which has a 1 percent chance of occurring.”

The District also continues to refine its coordination with county and city officials to ensure that government operations will continue during and after a significant weather event.

They’re closely watching four tropical disturbances in the Atlantic against a backdrop of rainfall that has already exceeded it historic average this year, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Baier said the master system of interconnected retention ponds is designed to allow officials to move water from one sub-basin at greater risk to another sub-basin more able to handle the overflow.

The community’s reliance on golf courses to keep overflow out of homes has performed extremely well, he said.

That system uses irrigation sprinklers to remove water in retention areas and spread it out over the vast land of golf courses. Although a temporary inconvenience to golfers, many courses were back online within a week of Irma’s passing.

“The golf courses are designed to be the floodplain and retain stormwater runoff from larger storm events,” Arnett explained. “The primary basin areas hold runoff from all of the smaller storm events.”

Baier said the District is also aided with strong county and city partners who  work ahead of storms to make sure that stormwater lines are cleaned out and ready for the worst.

Sumter County has increased its closed circuit television stormwater pipe inspections in The Villages from 13,430 feet of inspected pipe in 2013 to 82,500 feet in 2016. Nearly $500,000 was spent in pipe repair in The Villages in 2015 alone.

Daily Sun Managing Editor Curt Hills and Senior Reporter David R. Corder contributed to this report.

Michael Salerno is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.