Wellington Aims To Learn From Storm

As Wellington continues to pump water out of the area, officials are studying the effects of Tropical Storm Isaac to see what improvements can be made.

“The work isn’t over,” Deputy Village Manager John Bonde told the Town-Crier Monday. “Now, we are working on the part you don’t see.”

Though water has drained from most yards and roads, Bonde said that the village is continuously pumping water to bring the groundwater table back down.

“If we shut down operations on discharge right now, [the water level] would bounce back up,” he said. “The groundwater tables are so high that we have to continue to drain. We know from experience that the minute you stop pumping, the canals will come back up on their own.”

Bonde compared the land under Wellington to a sponge, which soaks up surrounding water. “A sponge can only hold so much, much like the canals and groundwater table,” he said. “We are squeezing the sponge.”

Though residents may not still see water, Bonde said it continues to be an issue.

“You don’t have to dig very deep to find it,” he said. “We are trying to get the groundwater down to a reasonable level.”

This is important, he said, because storms could still threaten the area.

“We are keeping a careful eye on the Atlantic,” Bonde said. “There are two storms out there. Even though they are not projected to hit us, the fact is that we are in the peak of hurricane season. We have to prepare for the next storm. If there was going to be one, we don’t want to say we didn’t do everything we can do. We want to make sure our residents are protected from storms.”

Wellington is also working to analyze the data it collected during the storm, hoping it could point to areas where the system could be improved.

“We’ll be looking at our system very closely over the next weeks and months to see what we can learn from this storm,” Bonde said. “We’re always reevaluating the system. We constantly ask ourselves if there is anything we can do to optimize the system.”

Bonde said Wellington’s next priority is evaluating its system’s performance.

“Right now, we’re going through our analysis to see if the system operated as it was designed,” he said. “I think, from everyone’s accounts, it did.”

Bonde stressed that Tropical Storm Isaac was an anomaly that dumped more rain than expected on the western communities.

“This was the largest storm we’ve had in recent memory,” he said. “Luckily, we prepared in advance. We did draw down our water level days before the storm. But we got 3 inches of rain before the storm even hit. We tried to get [the area] as dry as possible to absorb as much water as it could.”

He said that changes to the system would have to be weighed against the cost, as it’s not likely Wellington will see a storm of that magnitude again anytime soon.

“We have to ask what it will cost, and what people are willing to pay,” Bonde explained.

One idea that he said has come from Village Engineer Bill Riebe is to replace smaller pipes under roadways that caused water backups.

Bonde compared the issue to traffic on a highway, noting that canals are meant to move water more than store it.

“If you close one lane, what happens? You have a backlog,” he said. “What happens with water is you have these big pump stations pushing the water, and then it hits a pipe under the road. If it’s too small, just like losing a lane of traffic, you can only push so much through at a time. We are going to look at specific pipes to see if some locations could have done better.”

This is just one idea, Bonde said. Meanwhile, the evaluation continues.

“We have a lot of very bright people working on it,” he said. “We try to learn from each storm. Each storm is an opportunity to make changes and improve.”

Currently, Wellington has opened all its roads and most, if not all, of the water has been drained from properties, Bonde said.

“The southern area of Wellington was harder to dry,” he said. “Some of the property is lower geographically, and the natural slope of the land is to the south and southwest.”

But all in all, Bonde said that Wellington weathered the storm well.

“Wellington recovered as fast or faster than any neighboring community,” he said. “If you look at the coast, they didn’t get the same rain as we did. It’s a very isolated, unique storm, so you really can’t compare.”

He said that Wellington fared as well as it did thanks to the quick response by the South Florida Water Management District.

“If it wasn’t for quick action by the South Florida Water Management District, the situation would have been much worse,” Bonde said. “I want to make sure we recognize the quick action they took in order to protect the well-being and safety of our residents.”

Wellington is taking resident input on Tropical Storm Isaac and the village’s response. To learn more, visit www.wellingtonfl.gov/access-wellington/town-hall.html.