CARRBORO — Rivers of rainfall covering Old Pittsboro Road drew murmurs at a town meeting last week where Josie Hartman showed pictures she took during a record June 30 storm.
“I’m not sure where all the water is coming from in Carrboro, but a lot of it is coming down our street,” she said.
Residents along the sloping road came to the Board of Aldermen’s first meeting since the damaging rain event to ask the town for help. A period of study will precede the town’s next action.
Rainwater flowing down Old Pitt, as many neighbors call it, has gotten worse, residents told the board. And it began before the June 30 rain.
At the bottom of the road is the Rocky Brook community of mobile homes. Eleven were flooded during that remarkable weekend rainfall. Residents there are still rebuilding.
“For me, time stood still,” Hartman said of wash-out she witnessed off her front porch. “For an hour, though, water was just like a river coming down the road.”
Since 1999 when she bought her home near the top of the road, closer to its northernmost intersection with South Greensboro Street, she said she has been “complacent” about the amount of rainwater that inundates the street, her lawn and driveway.
Other Old Pittsboro Road residents echoed her reports of high-volume runoff to the Board of Aldermen.
“I’m a former resident of Old Pittsboro (Road) myself, and when I was there I don’t think I experienced anything quite like June 30,” Mayor Mark Chilton said.
The road snakes down Carrboro’s south slope, diverging from Greensboro then intersecting again near N.C. 54. It provides access to Royal Park Apartments, a condo neighborhood and Rocky Brook.
“The overall problem is that the upper part of this watershed is 99-percent impervious surface … and was developed long before anyone paid attention to stormwater management,” Chilton said. “Very little rainwater that hits that area is absorbed into the ground.”
A ditch that runs along the west side of Old Pitt carries downtown water runoff from the hardtop streets, parking lots and shingle roofs up-slope: where the corner of Greensboro and Main streets meet at Tyler’s and the Carrboro Century Center.
It is one of Carrboro’s most developed sections, including a town-owned parking lot and several private lots, at least eight eateries. Downtown Carrboro includes at least 20 eateries and tens of thousands square feet of parking, and all roads paved.
Residents said trash, plastic bags and bottles are washed into the ditch along Old Pitt. It overflows in heavy rains.
The ditch is polluted with sewage and grease, they said. Residents confirmed that OWASA had inspected the sewage, which was understood to have come from a leak. Calls to OWASA are pending.
The grease possibly comes from Carrboro restaurants, many of which sit above the slope that channels rainwater down to N.C. 54. and eventually feeds Morgan Creek.
George Seiz, Public Works director for Carrboro, told the board that public works do not maintain ditches on private property, but do clear the culverts that cross under roads.
Kelly Dimock, another resident, echoed her neighbor’s feelings of being complacent in not reporting vast water runoff in the past. It happens more than three times a year, she said.
“We’re talking about a massive amount of water,” said Dimock, whose house is at the top of Old Pittsboro Road. “It would be physically impossible to leave our driveway.”
“I think we need to have a serious conversation about our stormwater management,” Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said. “I don’t think what happened June 30 is going to be an isolated event.”
Widening the ditch was suggested, but there are drawbacks:
The road is a safer route for pedestrians and bikers than the steeper, busier Greensboro Street, which lacks a shoulder and sidewalk. Meeting participants raised worries of children or pets being swept by rushing water into the ditch, which is a swift river in heavy rains.
Chilton warned that making the ditch a better channel would dump water more swiftly and make things less manageable downstream, where Rocky Brook trailers flooded this summer.
Residents have been rebuilding trailers with help from Bonneville Electric, a nearby contractor whose owner has donated much of his time to assisting with the repairs.
“Some of us have been going down there this summer,” Hartman said. Helping their neighbors was a positive experience, but she said that doesn’t mean she wants another rain event to happen.
Several residents and their relatives are professional builders, but the repairs are costly and donated funds have helped make them possible. Some former residents are not moving back.