Mitigation efforts underway in light of last summer’s intense flooding

Concerns of high lake levels, water runoff prompts city to take actions before next summer

· Mar 5, 2019 Tweet

Sarah Godfrey/The Badger Herald

In light of last summer’s intense flooding, Dane County and local organizations have suggested possible solutions to mitigate further flooding but remain undetermined as of now.

The flash flooding that occurred last August and September was due to an unusually high amount of rain, which resulted in higher than normal lake levels and backwater problems.

Deputy City Engineer Greg Fries said the city has now allocated $7.5 million toward flood mitigation. This money will go toward construction, acquisition of land for future mitigation projects and hiring studies.

“The storm pointed out issues that exist in the city of Madison,” Fries said. “But, [the city] has to be careful of not just moving the problem. [We] must look at the whole system to improve the flood response for everyone, not harming anyone else.”

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Fries said about $3.5 million will be put towards construction and the other half will go toward land acquisition and studies hiring. The studies — about $250,000/each — help create infoSWMMs, software that models urban drainage and sewers. This will guide the city on how to improve future flood response.

The Lake Levels Task Force, created in early November by Dane County, has released technical reports and has had two out of its five guidance meetings.

It will go through the reports and then make a recommendation of what should be done about flooding due to the high levels of the Yahara Chain of Lakes, that consists of the Yahara River connecting lakes Kegonsa, Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Wingra.

“There are options to reduce the chances of flooding,” Fries said. “But they are only from an engineering perspective. They are meant to move water more efficiently out of these lakes in order to prevent flooding.”

According to a research report done by Yahara Lakes Association president Dan Schultz, the most favorable options are dredging sections of the Yahara River, rerouting and pumping water from Lake Waubesa to Badfish Creek, or a combination the two.

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Clean Lakes Alliance marketing and development director Adam Sodersten offered a different perspective.

“We need to reduce runoff,” Sodersten said. This is the answer for everything. If it happens to the land, it happens to the lake.”

Runoff is the prominent issue facing the Yahara River watershed, Sodersten said. It pollutes the lakes and increases the risk of flooding.

Sodersten emphasized that reducing runoff means increasing the quality of the Yahara chain of lakes. Decreased runoff will diminish blue-green algae blooms due to less nutrient runoff from agricultural land and urban surfaces.

To mitigate potential flooding, Sodersten and Fries recommended the community create rain gardens.

“Rain gardens take roof runoff and put it into a bathtub, giving the water to native plants,” Fries said. “These plants have tap roots 3 to 4 feet deep. This helps to quicken water infiltration down into the soil.”

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Both Sodersten and Fries agreed that reducing flooding will need a community-wide effort.

These changes will be most effective through word-of-mouth and leading by example. Like recycling, Sodersten and Fries are hopeful that through this process, a majority of the community will begin and continue to take an effort to minimize flooding.

If the Madison community participates and actively attempts to reduce runoff, the issues of flooding and the impacts on lake quality will be lessened, Fries said.

“It almost requires a societal change to how people look at their relationship with the land and runoff,” Fries said.

Individually, it is difficult to make a difference in the effects of flooding on the community and the Yahara Chain of Lakes, Sodersten said. If the community implements changes together, they will be able to have a larger impact on their future and that of the lakes.

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“Knowledge is power,” Sodersten said. “The more people that know how the community works and how runoff affects lakes, the more they will want to change it.”

The flooding last summer helped the city and Dane County prioritize solutions to the problem. Runoff has decreased the quality of the lakes, and the flooding has been damaging to the community.

Sodersten stressed the importance of the lakes to the Madison community.

“The lakes are why we are here,” Sodersten said. “Without the lakes, people might leave and Madison no longer be as great of a city as it is right now.”


This article was published Mar 5, 2019 at 11:00 am and last updated Mar 3, 2019 at 3:47 pm


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