Seattle Park is Giant Storm Drain

Sep 6, 2013

Recent summer storms have many locals concerned about urban flooding, or fast-flowing water overwhelming storm drains.

In Seattle’s Madison Valley neighborhood, outdated infrastructure led to a tragic death in 2006, but the city says the chronic flooding there should be fixed now.

On the corner of 30th and John, in the neighborhood with some of Seattle’s lowest elevation, what looks at first glance like a park is actually a massive new storm drain. Meandering paths, green lawns, and rockery fill half a city block. Grace Manzano with Seattle Public Utilities says in the event of heavy rain, it can become a retention pond and prevent flooding.  

“It’s a stormwater overflow protection facility, and it holds approximately 1.9 million gallons of stormwater,” Manzano said.

About seven blocks worth of new underground pipes connect the retention pond to a similar facility and a huge new stormwater storage tank at nearby Washington Park, doubling that capacity. Together, the infrastructure is enough to protect against flooding from storm events as big as the worst two on record in Seattle, seen in August 2004 and December 2006.   

That’s a huge relief to many people who live in the valley, including Kathi Titus.

”It’s just fantastic. Since it’s been built, I’ve only seen maybe a foot of water in it after any storm we’ve had. Plus they’ve installed drains in our backyards. So we don’t have standing water,” she said.

Titus says the improvement followed years of chronic flooding in their basements, which got so bad in 2004 that the neighborhood organized to lobby for fixes. Titus, a former teacher, says local residents warned the city that someone could get trapped. In 2006 a woman named Kate Fleming did, and drowned. And even though in that case, the water came from another source, Titus says Fleming’s death might have been what ultimately pushed the city to spend nearly $35 million on the stormwater upgrades.

‘Absolutely. Having somebody die, unfortunately, really got their attention, you know, and it got the public’s attention. Everybody knows about it,” Titus said.  

Despite the tragedy, she and her partner want other neighborhoods with chronic flooding to know that the city does respond when people organize.

She still winces a bit when she hears the flood warnings, but for now at least, it appears the fixes are working.