Thousands coming from state to prevent flooding in Orange County

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The communities of Orange County and Chapel Hill have recently experienced massive floods that have resulted in flash flood warnings and school cancellations.

On Jan. 9, there was a flood watch for both areas. Many public schools in Orange County and Chapel Hill were closed or delayed due to students not being able to get to and from school.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved to a Condition 1 status, which is reduced operations for both employees and students.

Flooding is affecting loads of Chapel Hill and Orange County residents. It is something that most people don’t even think about until it happens to them, so oftentimes residents are unprepared and overwhelmed.

The state of North Carolina is aware of these issues and more organizations are enacting policies for flood prevention.

One UNC senior and Chapel Hill resident, Aubri Bishop, dealt with this flooding firsthand when the house she is renting flooded this past month during the Jan. 9 flash flood.

Water was gushing through the windows, floorboards and electrical outlets, leaving her house overflowing with water to a point where it could not be stopped. Bishop was even getting painter’s tape to block off points of contact in the windows to stop the water from flowing in.

“The best way I could explain it is you have like seal commercials when they stab the tub and water just starts flowing out like that,” Bishop said.

Bishop and her roommates raced around their house using any sort of cloth to absorb all the water accumulating on the floor. They wrapped the cloth articles up and pushed them against doors in the house to ensure that the water wouldn’t spread into every room.

“We were using things like quilts, bedspreads, sheets, towels, every large article of cloth that we had. So just the amount of laundry with it was insane,” Bishop said. “And like after the water had gone away, the film of dirt all over down here was horrible.”

Two inches of water accumulated throughout the house; Bishop’s feet were splashing in water as she walked around her home.

Bishop’s close friend Grace Gao, a UNC senior, came by Bishop’s house after the flood and saw towels all over the floor soaked in water.

“I was thinking, how many times do they have to dry the floor? It still felt like they were living in an ocean,” said Gao.

Bishop is not concerned about the flooding for her house specifically since she is graduating in May.

“If this was my house, I would definitely be worried about the water coming out of the outlets. And the long-term consequences of just our bathroom getting flooded multiple times. This was I think the third or fourth time it really flooded,” Bishop said. “It could be fixed. It would just cost a lot of money, but also the floorboards are warping, power outlets are dead. So, there are consequences that are also costing money.”

The lights still flicker in Bishop’s house when she turns them on, certain power outlets don’t work, and there is still a film of dirt on the baseboards.

Gao said, “Since it is always flooding, there is also so much mud in the room, and it just makes it more difficult to clean up everything.”

Because of flooding in residences like Bishop’s, the state of North Carolina knows this is a major issue that needs to be fixed for their residents to live comfortably.

One North Carolina program aiming to reduce flooding is the Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program, or StRAP. StRAP is a grant program run by the division that awards funds and works with over 100 local grantees and local organizations to complete projects that help reduce flooding, restore streams and improve drainage infrastructure in North Carolina’s waterways.

Along with clearing both natural streams and rivers, as well as artificial structures like canals and dams to help reduce flood issues and reduce the impacts of flooding.

Matt Safford, the Program Manager for the StRAP Club Rehabilitation Assistance Program with the North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, said, “It’s grown in awareness in North Carolina. It’s something that thankfully has been a nonpartisan issue. It is something that everyone wants to be involved in, in helping their communities and their waterways reduce flooding impacts.”

One of the biggest factors with increased flooding is population increases.

“Since there’s more people in the states, there’s going to be more people affected by flooding,” said Safford. “Increased amounts of roads, parking lots, structures and impervious surfaces are causing water from storms instead of being absorbed by the soil to wash into waterways.”

StRAP was created to fund proactive preventative maintenance to help address issues while they’re smaller, mitigating the impact of future storms.

StRAP received $311 million in funding requests but was only able to allocate $38 million granted by the General Assembly.

The organization has $38 million to allocate their total requests for funds worth $311 million. Out of the $38 million allocated to the program, $60 thousand has been distributed to three projects in Orange County.

“I know the term unprecedented is thrown around a lot, but we really do have kind of an unprecedented amount of money that’s become available right now to put to use,” Safford said.

Out of the $38 million StRAP allocated throughout North Carolina, about $60,000 was given to projects in Orange County.

StRAP is going to continue doing stream debris removal projects and watershed structure repair projects to repair dams and other flood control structures. They also plan on funding other project types like stream bank stabilization through going in and repairing stream banks that are being eroded out by floods.

“Flooding is one of the issues that’s going to affect all of us,” Safford said.

The General Assembly also created the NC Collaboratory in 2016 to collect data on environmental issues in the state.

They have conducted research through the University systems in North Carolina to understand how to use infrastructure, either naturally or through building, to make these regions that are prone to flooding more strong and less susceptible to flooding conditions.

“It was becoming apparent to me that the effects of a flooding event are so cascading, it’s just one issue that creates another issue and so on,” said Rose Houck, a UNC junior who specializes in flood resiliency research in North Carolina.

A lot of the Collaboratory’s research has been surrounding the natural practices they can enact to remove debris that have fallen; debris removal increases the resilience of the flood and keeps it contained within the existing watersheds.

They also can open and close levees during times when there is going to be increased rainfall to help mitigate the effects from water spreading.

Houck said, “This is really a bipartisan concern. It’s not about climate change it is not politicized. It’s about protecting our communities from what we’re facing versus this problem.”

The Collaboratory has also looked at the population increase and increased urbanization. This leads to more concrete and outdated stormwater systems in these areas that are already prone to flooding. Rather than having soil or bodies of water do their job by soaking up all the water.

These programs will continue working hard at this issue to better the state of North Carolina and keep streams in a healthy, natural condition for communities and landowners along waterways.

“This is really a collaborative project and luckily we’ve been seeing a lot of great collaboration and it gives me a lot of hope for the future,” Houck said. “Anybody can be a part of creating a more flood resilient state, on a community level, state level, federal level and you can be a part of the policy that is having really important impacts on our community.”

Caroline Daly is a UNC-CH senior from Wilmington, NC, majoring in Media and Journalism, focused on Sports Broadcasting. She has experience in broadcast, writing, communications, graphics and social media. Caroline hopes to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.