PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Brett Smiley says the city’s infrastructure is passing the test for how it’s been built, but he’s concerned as storms are expected to grow in frequency and intensity.
A summer of wild weather brought serious flooding to some parts of Rhode Island.
In the past week, several sections of Providence saw significant flash floods. Firefighters had to rescue about two dozen drivers who were stranded after Branch Avenue turned into a river, and several stores in a nearby shopping plaza were damaged and looted.
“Our stormwater system is maxed out,” Smiley said during this week’s taping of Newsmakers.
“It’s functioning. It just wasn’t built to handle this much water,” he added.
Smiley said Providence’s streams and rivers are simply swollen after a rain-filled summer.
“Even an extra inch of rain can cause flooding,” he said. “And sometimes homeowners and business owners say, ‘It barely rained,’ but when everything is so like a sponge that’s already wet, it can’t hold any more water.”
Smiley said his administration is actively discussing ways to expand the capacity of the city’s stormwater system, while also integrating green infrastructure technologies like residential rain barrels and permeable pavement, which allows water to soak into the ground.
“I don’t think in this new world, we’re ever going to be able to build or engineer our way out of this type of weather,” he noted.
The mayor said crews have been dredging in flood-prone areas.
“As these river systems back up, it backs up eventually to a roadway or a business or to a home, so we’re dredging like we’ve not dredged before,” Smiley said.
In the last few months, the city began making upgrades to the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier.
Construction began in June to replace the hydraulic components that operate the sewer gates beneath the barrier at the intersection of Allens Avenue and Henderson Street, according to the city. The new components will allow the city to close the gates more efficiently in the event of a storm surge.
Though there is the potential to feel impacts from Hurricane Lee, Smiley also said the city has no plans to close the hurricane barrier this weekend.
Smiley also said he’s hoping the Providence City Council approves millions in sewer system upgrades.