Roanoke flood mitigation efforts since 1985 prove effective during flooding

City received nearly as much rain as it did during the flood of ’85

ROANOKE, Va. – The flood mitigation work done in Roanoke since the flood of 1985 definitely helped this time around, but there is still more work that could be done.

“You see the debris line there? That’s where your water level was," said Roanoke Stormwater Utility Manager Dwayne D’Ardenne, gesturing to the concrete wall along the bank of the Roanoke River on Reserve Avenue.

The wall kept the river where it should be, away from the road. But the wall, part of a $72 million flood mitigation project, likely would not have been nearly as beneficial if this week’s nine plus inches of rain came down in the same way as the rain in the historic flood.

“While the flood reduction project would make a difference, it wouldn’t stop some of the devastation that we saw," D’Ardenne explained.

In 1985, the city saw several days of a little rain and about six inches of rain in a single day.

This week, the rain was more evenly spread out.

D’Ardenne said the 10 miles of wall, earth berms and bench cuts along the river are only designed for storms that have a 4% chance of happening.

To further reduce the impact of flooding, 119 homes that repeatedly flood have been bought and demolished.

“We continue to do that when those are repetitive loss properties, FEMA repetitive loss properties," said D’Ardenne.

Continuing that effort, he said, is the best way to help reduce the impact of future flooding.

“It’s a matter of how much money do you spend on a percent chance event. What’s the return on investment,” D’Ardenne explained.

Being able to respond to flooding when it happens is another way to help reduce the impact.

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said he is proud of the city’s response this week.

“I want to commend our first responders, along with our homeless assistance team, they did a great job yesterday, the department of social services and community partners," Lea said.

Stormwater Department employees are out assessing the berms and wall as the water recedes, fixing any damage and taking notes to try to better understand what impacts future storms could have.