The recent spate of drenching rain has left central Palm Beach County communities furiously pumping water to stay ahead of rising water levels. While most areas have stayed well below flood status, the Indian Trail Improvement District is warily preparing for the next round of anticipated rainfall this weekend as a tropical system moves north-northeast from the Yucatan Peninsula.
On Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center gave the system a 40 percent chance of development.
ITID Manager Rob Robinson said his district fared pretty well, although an inactivated ITID area west of The Acreage, which has no off-site drainage, got the brunt of the deluge.
“We were in preparation for our pre-storm drawdown,” Robinson told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “We were going through our transition from dry to wet season water levels, so it really didn’t catch us off-guard, but we were starting to draw down for our permit restrictions.”
For the upcoming holiday weekend, he said that ITID is doing a pre-storm water drawdown for the system currently in the western Caribbean.
“It’s forecast to be up here Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” Robinson said. “Our director of stormwater operations has been in contact with the Seminole Improvement District, so we can maintain communications with them, and continue drawdown of the M2 Basin. That’s basically everything alongside Seminole Pratt Whitney Road south of 60th Street and south of Westlake.”
He added that ITID is continuing pumping operations for the M1 upper and lower basins, sending the water north to the L8 Canal and the M1 impoundment area.
“Crew chiefs are addressing work orders and conducting a grading blitz to grade the gravel roads that have been chewed up by the recent rains, so we have everyone not doing a work order on a piece of equipment, and we’re trying to get all the gravel roads graded before the rain hits again,” Robinson said. “We’ve got every available piece of equipment grading roads right now.”
Over the holiday weekend, he will have a crew on standby to address any issues that might arise due to the anticipated heavy rains.
“Typically, we have a crew chief come, in case we have a stop sign that gets knocked down, or anything that comes in through [the Emergency Operations Center], but we’re going to put on four people who are going to be local, so we’re going to keep them on alert, in case we need to bring in the cavalry and address some issues,” he said. “Plus, I’ll be in the area myself if anything happens. I grew up on a piece of heavy equipment, so I’ll be able to address anything.”
He said the low-pressure system is forecast to come up from the Yucatan toward Texas and Louisiana.
“That puts Florida on the wet side of it, so the tropical moisture is going to come up over Jamaica and Cuba, and it looks like it’s going to start impacting us Friday afternoon,” Robinson said. “We’ll start getting some rain, with Saturday and Sunday being the heaviest and tapering off Monday.”
He said The Acreage area had anywhere between five and nine inches of rain last weekend, and that although ITID was in the process of drawing down canal levels, it was still on the high end of dry season levels.
“It has been drier than normal, so we tried to stack a little morewater in there, so we were trying to play catch-up, but we’re in a good spot right now, and we’re doing pre-storm drawdown,” he said.
However, Robinson does not know exactly how much water to expect. “We’re anticipating four inches of rain a day, if not more, so we’re loading some capacity to address this,” he said. “Our system is designed where it can handle 11.5 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Anything more than that, we will experience some flooding.”
He explained that the system is also designed to fill the swales, the canals and then the roadways, as with the 18 inches that fell in 24 hours from Tropical Storm Isaac, where the roads were covered with water.
“That’s why we call it a basin,” Robinson said. “It’s a low area, and everything is supposed to stay in it. We pump it out per our permit requirements, and tomorrow we’re going to call into the South Florida Water Management District to see if we can get some more guidance and a little leniency on the permit to get rid of a little bit more water.”
He said the primary goal is to keep water out of homes. “If it gets on the roads and the yards, well it’s designed to do that, but we try not to if we can avoid it,” Robinson said.
One location that did receive extensive flooding over the past week is the Barky Pines Animal Rescue property in Santa Rosa Groves, which is not an activated unit of the Indian Trail Improvement District.
“It is an inactivated unit within our legislative boundaries,” he explained. “We’ve got 110 square miles, but it is an inactivated unit, and I am not allowed to spend any tax dollars on a unit that is not activated, because we are a benefit-assessed district. They’re not paying into us, so legislatively, I cannot do anything out there.”
He noted, however, that ITID, Palm Beach County and Santa Rosa Groves residents are planning workshops on what to do about drainage in that area.
“We actually entered into talks with some of the residents in Santa Rosa Groves months ago,” he said. “We were actually looking into what it would cost to bring those residents up to a minimum level of service, if they were to be activated.”
Robinson explained that there are two factions in that community. “Some want to go a homeowners’ association route, and some want to go an ITID activation route. Either way they go, it’s going to be a significant investment for them,” he said.