For two years, flooding has plagued J.C. Figueredo’s property on the east side of DeLand, and it continues to get worse.
Figueredo and his neighbors on Jackson Woods Road blame nearby development. They have tried for several years to find a solution. Now, with the puddles growing wider, deeper and closer to houses, three agencies have taken notice.
The City of DeLand, Volusia County and the St. Johns River Water Management District have all promised to look into the soggy problem.
“Life is miserable with all this water,” Figueredo said.
Officials have told Figueredo and his neighbors that the nearby housing developments have met all the requirements for stormwater management and other regulations. Yet the water is there, and the problem is getting worse, possibly sounding an alarm for other fast-growing neighborhoods.
On Figueredo’s property, when it rains, it floods. When it doesn’t rain, it still floods.
Most of the grass surrounding his home feels like a sponge, his driveway is under more than a foot of water, and, at night, he said, the mosquitoes are unbearable.
This summer brought plenty of rain: According to the National Weather Service, DeLand got 26.51 inches of rain from June through August, about 2 inches above average.
In August alone, DeLand was soaked with 14.4 inches of rainfall, more than 6 inches more than average — and that’s without a hurricane or other major storm.
While it has been rainy, Figueredo and his neighbors have another theory as to why their properties have seen so much flooding, though: the nearby development Sawyer’s Landing.
The elevation of Sawyer’s Landing is higher than that of Figueredo’s Jackson Woods Road home. The development sits less than a mile south of his property.
Victoria Trails is another new development, and much closer. But Figueredo and others said it wasn’t until construction began on Sawyer’s Landing that the flooding problem worsened.
Sawyer’s Landing, a 30-acre community with nearly 100 single-family lots, was developed by M3 Development. The average home there is about 84 feet above sea level, while most of Figueredo’s property is about 78 feet above sea level.
In 2018, around when construction began on Sawyer’s Landing, Figueredo said, standing water started pooling in his backyard.
“Literally right when they started breaking ground on that, it never dried,” he said. “Since Sawyer’s Landing, it has been 100-percent wet, not one dry day.”
The Beacon was unable to reach M3 Development for comment, but the St. Johns River Water Management District said the development is built to retain its own stormwater runoff.
“Based on the technical staff report,” Water Management District spokeswoman Teresa Monson wrote in an email to The Beacon, “the applicant demonstrated that the system has the capacity to retain the runoff from two consecutive 25-year, 96-hour storm events.”
Nevertheless, it isn’t just Figueredo dealing with flooding and pointing fingers at Sawyer’s Landing.
Janis Johnson lives near Figueredo on Jackson Woods Road. She also said the flooding has gotten worse in recent years.
“I’ve got a little low-lying spot in the corner of my property. Usually it will soak up rather quickly,” she said. “Perhaps it’s just because of all the rain we have had that it’s not, but perhaps not.”
Johnson has lived in her home for more than 20 years, and so has Ronnie Mills, another neighbor. These longtime residents complained that, in the past, the only time they saw flooding was during especially bad hurricane seasons.
“I’ve got water where I’ve never had it before,” Mills said.
He has lived near Figueredo’s property for the past 25 years.
“We’ve noticed more water during a heavy rain being retained here than it used to be. It used to dissipate pretty quickly. Now it just hangs around,” Mills said.
Figueredo said he tried complaining to the city, the county, and the Water Management District, and never got anywhere. He said officials passed around the blame, but no one gave him answers.
Now, he’s finally beginning to get some answers.
Water Management District officials said the area is recognized as a sandhill marsh, and is simply prone to flooding, but, nevertheless, district staff have “committed to conducting an inspection of the Sawyer’s Landing permitted site to ensure compliance with the authorized design.”
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus told The Beacon the same, after he went and took a look at the property.
Residents in Victoria Trails, adjacent to the Jackson Woods Road neighborhood where J.C. Figueredo lives, have also experienced some flooding.
Dr. Wendy Anderson, a professor of environmental studies at Stetson University, lives in Victoria Trails. She said she is familiar with the elevated amount of water in the area.
“Even our dry storage basins have water standing in them right now,” she said in a message to The Beacon.
Anderson said drainage from development in the area should not be a problem if the development plan followed state laws that require retaining all stormwater on the property.
Another Trails resident is Mike McNamara. McNamara said he’s aware of Figueredo’s flooding problem and, while his problems haven’t been nearly as bad, McNamara keeps a close eye on a small ditch on his property that amasses water when it rains.
“Ever since they started building the homes behind me. When the land was raw, it would absorb the water itself,” he said.
Like Figueredo, McNamara believes his flooding has come as a direct result of Sawyer’s Landing, beginning at its construction and continuing ever since.
— Noah Hertz
“His backyard is a wetland, though. By definition, it does retain water, except when you get extremely dry periods,” Pleus said.
Pleus said the city would not be able to identify the source of the problem until a hydrologist can investigate. The city plans to make that happen.
Once hydrology tests are done, and a potential cause can be identified, Pleus said, the city will work with the county to determine solutions to alleviate the flooding. The City of DeLand, the county, and the St. Johns Water Management District have all said they are taking steps to help.
Rain, rain, go away
Heightened rainfall and poor drainage are possible culprits, but, according to Stetson University professor Dr. Jason Evans. “Drainage is not as simple as some people might think.”
Evans is an associate professor of environmental science and studies, and is currently executive director of Stetson’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.
The shape of the landscape and the type of soils involved also matter, Evans said. There’s also the question of how saturated the soil already is.
“The issue is that water flows downhill, but there’s soils, and how things flow through soils,” he explained. “We’ve had really big rainfall events and severe storms that have come through, and if you happen to be in an area that has received more of those storms, in theory, that could explain why you have that amount of standing water.
“Or, there could be something going on with the development; that’s a reasonable hypothesis, too,” Evans said.
Florida isn’t out of hurricane season yet, and a strong storm could be disastrous in areas that are already flooding.
“If you have standing water and it rains a lot, well, a friend I used to work with always said, ‘What happens when it rains a lot at high tide? You run for the hills,’” Dr. Evans said.
For now, Figueredo and other nearby residents are concerned that the flooding could lead to long-term property damage. And in some cases, it already has.
“Not only is my garden ruined, but I had to ruin my driveway,” Figueredo said.
To prevent his truck’s wheels from getting stuck in 2 feet of standing water, he said, he had to dig up his driveway and move dirt around to keep the water level from getting too deep in any one place.
Figueredo also worries about damage to the area’s ecology.
“Tortoises are everywhere. They burrow in this, and this is wet. A tortoise can’t make itself a home here,” Figueredo said, with a gesture toward the soggy ground around his home.
Water is also standing in a nearby woods, where he fears it will kill trees.
As the city, county, and Water Management District all look for a solution to the area’s mysterious flooding, and residents continue to point to development, Figueredo said he plans to tough it out, but continue to fight.
“I’m tied here, too,” he said. “My grandparents lived up here, I grew up down here. I love this place.”