For decades, much of the rain that fell in Elizabeth Street neighborhood ended up in three small brick houses on Dantzler Court.
Those houses, Nos. 305, 309 and 313, have now been purchased by the city, and are scheduled to be torn down soon.
At a news conference Monday to announce the move, Charles Martin, director of the Division of Water Quality, noted that the three houses were the lowest point in the neighborhood, and in a flood plain.
His boss, Environmental Commissioner Cheryl Taylor, said the wet summer, and in particular an intense 2.5-inch downpour on the last day of July, show the problems the city has with storm and sanitary sewers.
When it rains a lot, rainwater overwhelms sanitary sewers instead of staying in storm sewers where it belongs, she said. That causes the sanitary sewers to overflow into yards, basements and creeks.
When the houses on Dantzler Court are demolished and the area is seeded with grass, more rain will soak into the ground there.
"If we can reduce the amount of storm water we have to manage, we can improve water quality," Taylor said.
The houses back up to the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks, which acts as a dam to stop water. A drainage pipe passes under the tracks. But Martin said it won't be enlarged until studies are conducted to see if that would just move the flooding problem to another neighborhood.
Money from a new storm sewer fee that the city starts collecting in January will allow it to take more of a watershed approach to flooding, instead of dealing with it neighborhood by neighborhood, he said.
The city already has spent nearly $400,000 on new storm and sanitary sewer lines, and to improve curb box inlets, in the Elizabeth Street area. The three houses cost $495,000.
Taylor said officials will talk with neighbors about what will happen in the area where the houses are. Similar areas in other parts of town are becoming community gardens, she said.