Much of the city's stormwater system was installed as Falls Church rapidly grew between the 1930s and 1960s. Unlike more recently developed areas of Northern Virginia, the city was developed without the stringent stormwater restrictions on quantity and quality that we have today.
Unfortunately, as density increased stormwater runoff increased. This led to undersized pipes that are frequently overwhelmed by storms smaller than the industry-standard benchmark (10-year storm event).
Virginia's current stormwater regulations are designed to hold new development and redevelopment to existing runoff rates. Given the Dillon Rule, the city cannot force private development to mitigate existing conditions without permission from the General Assembly. Therefore, in order to solve the city's stormwater quality and quantity issues we will need to construct new stormwater facilities that contain and treat runoff.
Fixing the Problem
The poor physical condition of our stormwater infrastructure further complicates the city's needs. In 2012 the Department of Public Works indexed roughly half of the system using closed-circuit television and Geographic Information System (GIS).
The investigation showed many of our stormwater pipes are beyond their expected life span and in some locations have failed or are near failing. As we see with some regularity, flooding occurs in areas not only due to undersized pipes but also broken stormwater pipes.
City staff estimates roughly $20 million will be needed in the next 10 years to solve drainage problems and replace aging stormwater infrastructure.