Florida’s rainy season begins June 1, and preparation for potential flooding is important for public agencies, homeowners associations, and property owners alike. Each has an important role to play in reducing the risks and consequences of flooding.
In 2017, our community was among the numerous communities all across Florida and Brevard County where Hurricane Irma and several following days of heavy rains caused extensive flooding. Within the City of West Melbourne, an estimated eighty-five homes, apartments and businesses experienced flooding, including several homes in our Wood Haven Manor and Woodland Manor neighborhoods. In addition, numerous vehicles parked in the Reserves of Melbourne apartments and in the Buena Vida Estates parking lots flooded during Irma. According to estimates prepared by the National Weather Service, over a five and a half week period, rainfall totals for various locations within West Melbourne ranged from more than twenty inches to more than twenty-six inches.
There are three principal public agencies that maintain drainage canal and public street swale drainages in our community. The largest and most significant drainage canals south of U.S. 192 are the responsibility of the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District, a public agency with a locally appointed board whose budgets are approved by the Brevard County Commission. These canals generally flow west and south before eventually heading east to Turkey Creek. The largest and most significant canals north of U.S. 192 are the responsibility of Brevard County. These canals generally flow east and south to Crane Creek. A smaller number of canals in West Melbourne are the responsibility of the City of West Melbourne. These are feeder canals to either the Melbourne-Tillman system terminating at Turkey Creek or the County system terminating at Crane Creek.
In addition to canals, public street drainages are the responsibility of the public agency responsible for maintaining the associated public street. In West Melbourne, this is the Florida Department of Transportation for the U.S. 192 drainage, Brevard County for all the major arterial road drainages through West Melbourne (such as Minton and Wickham, Hollywood and Evans, Eber and Ellis), and the City of West Melbourne for the local public street drainages in West Melbourne.
Over the past several months, all four public agencies have been performing maintenance work on their canals, street drainages and swales. In addition, last year, the City of West Melbourne completed four drainage improvement projects.
In addition to the four public agencies responsible for public drainages, many properties in West Melbourne have local drainage systems that are the responsibility of a local homeowners association. Homeowners associations are advised to check their key inflow and outflow structures to insure that they are clear of debris, and for those associations with multiple connected retention ponds, keeping the connections between the retention ponds clear is also critically important. A few HOAs even arrange to pre-pump down their retention ponds when large storms are predicted, provided they have the advance permission of the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District. Such action by the Westbrooke HOA prior to Irma helped immensely in the avoidance of what would most certainly otherwise have been substantial flooding throughout Westbrooke.
Private property owners also have responsibilities to reduce the risk of flooding for themselves and their neighbors. The most important preparation that homeowners in older neighborhoods with local street side swales is to make sure the pipe under their driveway has not filled up with debris or dirt. While it is the City or County’s responsibility to maintain the swales themselves, it is each homeowner’s responsibility to maintain the pipe under your own driveway. Not keeping this pipe clear can impact you and your neighbors in the event of a major rainstorm.
Of course, no one should ever throw yard debris or other trash into public canals or onto canal banks, nor in nor along the banks of homeowner association retention ponds, nor pile yard trash blocking street side swales, as these actions can cause blockages that can increase the risk of area flooding.
Another important precaution that all homeowners can take is to purchase flood insurance. Virtually all of West Melbourne is outside formally mapped FEMA flood hazard zones. This means that flood insurance for homes throughout West Melbourne is fairly inexpensive. Particularly if you live in an older neighborhood, purchasing flood insurance each year may well be one of the best investments you can make in protecting your home.