Unseasonable rains have Lakeland residents on edge as flood waters rise from drainage canal

LAKELAND, Fla. — The drainage canal behind their home is a cesspool of trash, overgrown shrubs, and debris. People living near it say every time it rains their homes nearly flood and all of that trash fills their yards.

It is a cycle of rain, trash and clean up that has residents frustrated and exhausted.

"Somebody needs to dredge out that ditch," Warren Harasta said.  

Harasta said he’s complained to the Polk County Roads and Drainage department multiple times over the past couple of years.

Toilet seats, rollerblades, cement blocks pulled from Tampa's sewer drains

“They’ve done nothing,” Harasta said.  

Harasta showed ABC Action News video of recent floods from last week. He now believes he has a bigger problem.

“I think there is a sinkhole under my house,” Harasta said. “Now, I’m worried my house is going to collapse. Everywhere there is concrete you can see it bubbling down around the edges of the house.”

The drainage canal behind Harasta’s home near Cannon Street and Jensen Avenue is full of debris. His next door neighbor Saul Rosales said county officials told him he has to clean up the overgrowth because his property runs into the middle of the canal.

Even if Rosales cleaned his one area, which he said he can’t afford to do, the other property owners would have to do the same. He’s asked for neighbors to come together to try and get everyone to pitch in but hasn’t been able to get his neighbors on board.

The canal is a cesspool of debris. People said when it floods septic tanks overflow sending raw sewage into their yards.

“It’s so hard to live here with all this water, we need help, to clean the canal please,” Rosales said.  

“Somebody needs to be held responsible whoever is responsible needs to be held responsible,” Harasta said. “Whether it’s the county or private or it's both. Somebody needs to be held responsible.”

Bill Skelton, the Public Information Coordinator with the Roads and Drainage Department said they are “monitoring the condition and attempting to clear the neighborhood drainage system of obstructions and remove silts in the swales and outfalls that convey the stormwater runoff.”

Skelton said in an email that the unseasonable rains have overwhelmed and the flood-prone area where Harasta and Rosales live is getting impacted.

“The ‘standing water’ issues are likely related to downstream watershed conditions beyond the immediate neighborhood. Basically, this area of Polk County has been inundated with so much rain over the past several weeks that connected systems are exceeding capacity and subsidence has slowed dramatically from saturation and collective runoff,” Skelton said.  

Residents tell us they’ve heard that before. They would like to see how much their neighborhood floods if the county would team up with homeowners to find a solution to the flooding and clean the drainage canals. Many aren’t holding their breath.

“I’ve kind of given up hope. Today, I was out looking for a new place,” Harasta said.  

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