Judy Libby Vardamis, of Auburn, stands near a pile of items she has been organizing after her basement recently flooded. Like many other Mainers, Vardamis never had a problem with a wet basement until persistent rains this spring and summer overwhelmed their drainage systems. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Judy Libby Vardamis never had to worry about her basement.

For 17 years, her home’s top-notch drainage system did its job, keeping the 1,650-square-foot space bone-dry, even during the heaviest downpours.

But after an already wetter-than-average summer, two early August storms each dumped about 4 inches of rain in Auburn, and for the first time since Vardamis and her husband, Dale Theriault, built their house in 2006, the drainage system was overwhelmed, clogged, and backed up into the basement.

About 4 inches of water poured in, soaking boxes of books, photographs, clothes, records, furniture, and more.

“My history is gone,” said Vardamis, 73. “There’s no getting that back.”

Vardamis is in good company. An unusually rainy summer has dumped, in some cases, more than twice the normal amount of rainfall, raising the water table and putting basements at risk. Many, like Vardamis, are having to deal with a flooded basement for the first time.

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Water damage mitigation companies and basement waterproofing businesses say they’ve been receiving more calls from panicked homeowners who don’t know what to do.

“We’re super busy but I feel like that’s across all of the restoration companies,” said Lara Clark, marketing director for Bouchard Cleaning, which has offices in Hampden and Westbrook.

“The sheer amount of rain in some of these places is causing issues in places that haven’t seen it before,” she said, adding that on top of the increased call volume, like many others, the company is also short-staffed.

The water has complicated things at every turn: flooding basements, increasing mold and putting pressure on septic systems, and running the risk of sewer backups.

Tony Hafford, owner of TC Hafford Basement Systems, said summer is usually a drier, slower time for the company. But this year has been unpredictable and they’ve been fielding more calls than usual.

“Basements are typically one of those things you kind of forget about until it rains,” he said. And this year there’s been plenty.

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“I’ve been in business since 1991 … I don’t remember a June and July back to back where we’ve gotten this much water.”

Hafford stressed the importance of proper drainage and said a sump pump is a good backup if for some reason the main drainage system isn’t working or gets overwhelmed. He said to check on the basement frequently to look for signs of water because even a little moisture between the wall and floor line can be a concern. Others tout the benefits of dehumidifiers to keep mold at bay.

Andy Knox, general manager of All Dry Services of Southern Maine, said that in March he had calls from the owners of four different flooded Saco homes, all on the same road, who said they’d never had water in their basements.

“The natural water table throughout Maine has come up a bit,” he said. “The ground is saturated,” increasing the risk for both flooding and mold.

A WET SUMMER 

The unusually high amount of rainfall has caused the water table in Maine to rise, in some cases to record-high levels for this time of year, according to John Mullaney, a hydrologist and groundwater specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s New England Water Science Center.

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At the center’s Augusta monitoring site, the water table is about 10.27 feet from the ground’s surface. The previous high for August was 10.5 feet, Mullaney said, and since the month isn’t over and more rain is on the way, it’s likely to rise even higher.

That depth is about 6 feet higher than it was in September last year when the state was still in a drought.

Other parts of Maine are also experiencing higher-than-usual water table levels, with all 17 of the center’s monitoring sites reporting depths in the 75th to 95th percentile.

This is a sharp reversal from the typical water table behavior.

“Most of the groundwater sites in normal years almost always decline all summer long,” Mullaney said.

Judy Vardamis goes through photographs that were damaged in her flooded basement. Maine’s state hydrologist says water tables normally drop during summer months, but this year, they have risen. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Depth levels will typically retreat from around the last frost through the end of September or October when the growing season is over and the plants stop needing so much water.

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“It’s fairly unusual for us to see the water levels rise in the summer,” he said.

This year hasn’t been the wettest summer on record, but precipitation totals are well above average, said Derek Schroeter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

The Gray outpost has recorded 19.32 inches of rain since June. That’s about 7 inches higher than the 12.31 inches typically recorded from June through July, and there’s more rain expected through the end of the month.

‘HINDSIGHT IS EVERYTHING’ 

Katie Seguin has lived in her Lewiston Cape for 25 years and, until this summer, never had any issue with water in her basement.

But one Monday earlier this month, she awoke to find it flooded with 5 inches of water.

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Like Vardamis, she had always had a reliable drainage system, but with the intense rainstorms, it filled and clogged with sediment.

She and her husband, John, borrowed a few water pumps from Seguin’s cousin and pumped out as much water as they could. They put in a sump pump but it didn’t do the job.

Eventually, she called a Roto-Rooter-type company, which came and cleaned out the drain.

“My husband said it was like Niagara Falls when it let go,” she said.

They know what to look out for in the future and the insurance company has been great, Seguin said, estimating that the flood caused about $5,000 worth of damage.

But it’s hard to put a price tag on memories.

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“Everything for the last 25 years that was sentimental is now gone. It’s very sad,” she said. “Over the years the kids would play down there and they had things left from childhood that they might want. It was all soaked.”

Just a few miles east, Vardamis had been meaning to clean out her basement for the last year. She had started to pick through some of the items, opening a few boxes and sorting through their contents.

Now, she says she’s kicking herself for not getting it done sooner.

“Honestly, I was furious with myself,” she said. “I cried.”

The early August storm that dumped about 4 inches of rain in Auburn had overwhelmed local restoration companies, and the first two places she called were fully booked.

Vardamis and Theriault drove to Lowe’s to buy a sump pump but later realized they grabbed the wrong size.

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At the end of her rope, Vardamis texted a late-night SOS text to Clark at Bouchard Cleaning and Restoration, an old friend from her days volunteering at the Red Cross in Bangor.

“They brought in eight dryers and two dehumidifiers that ran for seven days,” Vardamis said. “Bouchard won the gold medal.”

Two weeks later, Vardamis said they just finished hauling the last of about six dump-bound loads of what’s now just garbage. Bouchard Cleaning and Restoration sprayed the walls and floor with a lemon-scented antibacterial spray to prevent mold, and she’s working with the insurance company to determine the cost of the damage.

In the meantime, she’s ordered shelves to stack waterproof totes – the little they were able to save had been protected in plastic, and Vardamis said she’s learned a valuable lesson: not to use boxes. They ordered the right size sump pump, but nobody is available to install it until October.

“We didn’t think we had to worry,” Vardamis said. “Hindsight is everything.”

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