The big noise at the last committee of the whole (“COW”) meeting involved the petitions of about 5 (but about 10 burly guys showed up) homeowners who wanted us to allow them to keep fences, sheds and gardens in easements that served as drainage ditches for the excess water in their neighborhood. These structures partially blocked the flow of water down those shallow ditches. Everyone in the neighborhood had added something to this area of the commons. The effect was water retention in the neighborhood. If every owner inserted enough into the commons to back water up only one inch, the effect of having 12 such obstructions would be to raise the water table by a foot. This extra water would keep basements damp with attendant mold, allergies and occasional flooding. More generally, the excess water provided areas where mosquitos could breed, termites and other vermin could thrive, and prevented many plants and lawns from growing because their roots were under water. There would be more humidity in the air, need for air conditioning and ice in the ground. This complex of dampness and the stagnation of water leads to the “unhealthy neighborhoods and homes” so dear to the dimwits of The National Enquirer.
It was pointed out that most of the owners were not aware of what easements were and that they had not been told of their presence in the deeds and mortgages which they had signed. The homeowners became victims of bad paperwork and everyone ignored the major problem which was that they were victims of the higher water tables in their neighborhoods. This lack of knowledge of easements became the dominant theme for the evening, and everyone except myself voted to have the engineering staff re-consider the ordinances about flood plains and storm water drainage. They were given a year (after the elections, y’know), and asked not to enforce the current rules on the owners in the room until then. In other words, our city’s engineer was asked to ignore civil engineering.
But nature is an unforgiving mistress, and the commission caved in to political exigency, and neglected its enforcement of a law which pays these residents rich rewards.
The law is not meant as a tool for Kentwood to force folks to perform or refrain; rather it gives a recourse for the individual to protect himself from others who may harm him. In the present case, even one homeowner who obstructs water outflow raises the dampness for the entire neighborhood and should be discouraged. Here, all of the owners have participated in the folly, have congealed their defiance (a political act) and been abetted by the city commission conspiring in yet another political drill. None of them realized that the higher water table caused them subtle and expensive harms in the medium term.
Not the city engineer nor anyone else in the room was prepared to explain it, and that’s the pity. I suspect that a simple truth, known to any farmer a hundred years ago, that one pitched water away from the house and barn, drained swamps and the like, could have blunted the hostility of the petitioners and swayed enough commissioners to do what was right.
But politics led to this unfortunate result, a strange disdain for reality.