Jump to strategies to reduce flood risk
Stormwater flooding occurs across Woburn – it is not limited to the FEMA flood risk zones. The map below shows residential locations where flooding has occurred in the past. Of the 567 locations, only 13 are located in the most recently released FEMA 1% chance flood zone or the local 1% chance floodplain.
Map of Woburn Flooding Locations
This map includes flood disaster claims, flood insurance claims, city records, and reports from Woburn residents who have experienced flooding at any time. Residential areas are shown in yellow. The locations are enlarged and slightly perturbed for privacy purposes. Areas not identified on this map may also experience flooding.
Unfortunately, stormwater flooding is a common challenge for most cities and towns where, over time, development has changed drainage characteristics. Brooks and streams have been rerouted, or placed in culverts, and natural floodplains filled. With development comes an increase in impervious surfaces – such as streets, driveways, and rooftops. As a result, rather than soaking into the ground slowly and evenly across the landscape, rainfall tends to run off quickly and collect in our yards and streets. In larger rainstorms, rapid runoff overwhelms municipal drainage systems.
Development Patters and Stormwater Runoff
Image source: State Farm, Flickr
In interviews conducted in 2021, Woburn residents overwhelmingly reported basement flooding as their primary flooding concern. Built partly or entirely below ground level, basements are inherently prone to flooding.
Basement flooding can occur at any time, even if a basement has never flooded before. Flooding can occur because of seepage through the walls or foundation floor, from surface water sources, or by a sanitary or storm sewer backup. Most residents interviewed reported groundwater seepage as the source of flooding.
Groundwater is water that is naturally located below the ground’s surface. The groundwater level can be, at times, above the level of the basement floor. In some locations, groundwater can be above the level of the floor often, or at all times. Gravity does its best to move water from high to low. If the groundwater level around your home is above the basement floor, gravity will try to move that water into your basement. A crack in the foundation floor, for example, provides gravity with a path for water to be pushed into the basement.
Flooding can also come from surface-level sources: if stormwater flows over land, it can enter through openings around windows and doorways.
So what can you do about it?
Are you planning to do work on your home or in your yard? Look for opportunities to reduce your flood risk. In interviews conducted in 2021, many Woburn residents said they were taken by surprise the first time their home flooded. As a result, many suffered damage and losses that could have been reduced or prevented if they had been forewarned. Flooding can happen anywhere, even if your home isn’t located in a flood zone or near a waterway.
The following suggestions are options you can consider to reduce the likelihood of flooding and flood damage to your home and to your neighborhood. The City of Woburn Inspectional Services Department is available to assist with any questions you may have regarding the building codes and permit requirements. The Department can be reached at 781-897- 5840.
The only way to guarantee no basement flooding is not to have a basement. Consider building your new home above ground even if you are not in a flood zone. If your new home will have a basement, consider preventative measures such as a french drain to direct stormwater away from the basement. Review the Outdoors and Indoors suggestions for additional strategies. It is most cost-effective to incorporate flood protection when you are building new.
Photo source: Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flickr
Maintain your gutters and downspouts
Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris and extend properly from the home. Blocked gutters and downspouts may result in water filling up and spilling over to locations close to the foundation, causing basement flooding. Downspouts should extend far enough from the home to carry rainwater away from the foundation. Directing your roof runoff to a drywell can be an effective way to manage runoff without damaging your property or others. Take care not to direct runoff to neighboring properties or to the public way.
Improve lot grading
Stormwater should always drain away from your home. Examine the flow paths around your home and change grading if necessary. In older homes, due to settling, manipulation of landscaping, new additions, or decks, lot grading may be neglected and typically deteriorates through settling over time. Take care not to direct runoff to neighboring properties or to the public way.
Image source: Roger Mommaerts, Flickr
Reduce impervious surfaces and capture rainwater
Hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete speed stormwater runoff and contribute to flooding. Your home is likely the largest impervious surface on your property. Consider directing your roof runoff to dry wells. Green spaces, including rain gardens and swales, can slow runoff and serve as attractive amenities. Gravel walkways and driveways, pervious paving and pavers also lessen stormwater runoff. Install rain barrels at your downspouts. This will capture roof runoff and you can use the water later for your lawn or garden, or to wash your car. For more information on these strategies, visit What You Can Do to Soak Up the Rain | US EPA (note: this link leads to an external website).
Keep the nearest catch basin free of debris
Catch basins are the storm sewer grates located on the street, and they are responsible for storm runoff drainage to the storm sewer. Often, particularly in the spring after snowmelt or in the fall when the leaves drop off the trees, catch basin grates can get blocked by debris. It can happen in winter too if ice or snow covers the opening. If you have a catch basin outside your house, you can help by keeping it clear of obstructions. If you notice a catch basin backing up, report it the DPW.
Elevate your utilities and service equipment
Elevate air conditioning condensers, water meters, and other service equipment to prevent flood damage and loss of critical services. Anchor outdoor fuel tanks to prevent dislocation and ruptures.
Protect valuable possessions
Move important documents, valuables, and sentimental items out of the basement or store in watertight containers or elevated on shelves. Consider whether high value items including electronics and furnishings are appropriate for your basement. Standard homeowners insurance does not cover many types of flood damage and even a separate flood insurance policy provides limited coverage. Understand what your insurance coverage provides, especially if you are investing money to make the area living space.
Elevate utilities and services
Protect electrical service panels, heating and air conditioning, and major appliances. Elevate them to higher floors or the attic where possible. At a minimum, utilities and appliances can be elevated on blocks or protected with low walls or shields. Consider tankless hot water heaters.
Seal foundation and walls
Seal cracks and holes in your basement foundation and walls to prevent seepage.
Install a sump pump
Install a sump pump to remove groundwater seepage. Choose a device with battery-operated backup to maintain operation in case of a power outage. The City of Woburn prohibits attaching sump pumps to the sanitary sewer system as this contributes to sewer backups. Take care not to direct the sump pump discharge to neighboring properties or to the public way.
Prevent sewer backups
Install drain plugs and sewer backflow prevention valves to prevent sewer backups. Do not pour fats, oils, or grease down your drains as this is one of the most common causes of sewer system back-ups in Woburn.
Use flood resistant building materials
Consider flooring materials such as ceramic, tile, and vinyl rather than wood, as well as movable rugs rather than carpeting. Flood resistant wall materials include lime plaster, cement board, and concrete.
A brochure from FEMA entitled “Protect Your Home from Flooding” provides more information about the suggested strategies and links to additional information. View the brochure at: Protect Your Home from Flooding Low-cost Projects You Can Do Yourself (fema.gov)
The City of Woburn has a comprehensive program to manage stormwater to reduce problematic flooding and the contaminants that stormwater runoff carries to our waterways. You can read about the stormwater management program here: Stormwater Management Program – City of Woburn (woburnma.gov)