Flood risk analyst: flood protection systems failing across Middle Tennessee

Paul Turner's home near Highway 13 in Waverly flooded after record rainfall fell on the...
Paul Turner's home near Highway 13 in Waverly flooded after record rainfall fell on the community on Aug. 21, 2021.(WSMV)
Updated: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:30 PM CST
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WAVERLY, Tenn. (WSMV) - Paul Turner thought he knew what he was buying. But, according to what Turner was told by its prior owners, the property in Humphreys County had no history of flooding.

The ditch on the land near his home had a concrete culvert to direct water to the creek just across the street of Highway 13.

But on Feb 26, when he and his wife closed on the house, a flash flood soaked the property. Then came the flood in August, in which 20 people were killed in nearby Waverly. Finally, another flash flood came in October.

The result is 10 inches of water in his home and a soaked den. In his yard, a concrete culvert in a creek that was once surrounded by land now stands alone, as floodwaters have eroded away the earth.

“A tsunami effect - where anything and everything was destroyed,” Turner said.

And flood mitigation across Highway 13 from his home that is designed to keep water away is also failing. On the other side of the highway is a creek, which is filled with overgrowth and dumped vegetation.

When it floods, the creek clogs and backs up into Turner’s property.

“I think it’s simple: I’ve lost hope,” Turner said.

News4 Investigates confirmed that the clogged creek is supposed to be maintained by TDOT, as it stands on the right of way of the highway.

Our inspection of the creek shows there is so much water washing over the interstate that the ground above the culvert is washing away.

A TDOT spokeswoman told News4 Investigates they were unaware of how badly Turner’s home was flooding until we showed them photographs of the damage inside. The spokeswoman also said the culvert there is unprepared to handle flash flooding.

“They just cannot handle the amount of rain coming through in these storms,” TDOT spokeswoman Rebekah Hammonds said.

That’s exactly what Dr. Hiba Baroud, a Vanderbilt civil engineer professor who specializes in flood risks, says she wants the public to understand.

Baroud said Turner’s flooding is a perfect example of how flood mitigation system that once controlled water in Middle Tennessee are failing to keep up with intensifying rains from climate change.

“The risk of seeing more flooding in the future is going to increase,” Baroud said.

After News4 Investigates started asking questions about Turner’s problems, TDOT began clearing the rock and debris that washes up onto his property and vows to clear the creek.

Turner knows, though, that none of the flood mitigation systems have changed, and that makes him nervous when the rains fall.

“We don’t want to die in the middle of the night,” Turner said.

This story is part of an ongoing investigation, “Troubled Waters,” by News4 Investigates, which explores why so many neighborhoods in Middle Tennessee are flooding that have never flooded before.

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