The following is from an essay by Jackie Fuller of Findlay, originally submitted in an Owens Community College class:
Over the last two years Findlay, Ohio has flooded 10 times. While flooding is not a new problem, the frequency of it is. There is a solution for the city’s flood problem. With the help of the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, the solution will be found and implemented.
The city sits in a valley and has been prone to floods since it was built in 1812. In August 2007 the river reached its second highest flood stage ever when it crested at 18.46 feet. With the loss of businesses, lost school days, and damages estimated at over 60 million dollars the city knows that something has to be done to prevent future floods.
Residents of Findlay have been in search of the best solution to prevent another major flood, though there are ongoing disputes as to the main cause of the flooding. It does not seem to be any one thing in particular, but a combination of too much rain, bridges built to low, and development built in the wrong place.
One major cause for all of the recent flooding is so much rain over the last two years. Area residents contend that the flooding cannot be blamed just on the rainfall. Facts given by both the National Weather Service and the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership Web sites to an extent disagree.
According to the National Weather Service the country is currently experiencing the La Nina weather pattern. Ohio records abnormal rainfall for every time it has experienced such a pattern. Presently it is not just Ohio getting more than its fair share of the rain. Several rivers in the country are in flood stage at this time and are cresting at record levels.
When the river flooded in August 2007, 9 inches of rain fell over the a wide area. That amounts to 82.4 billion gallons of water that fell in 24 hours. The rainfall levels of the 1959 and 2008 floods over the same area were only 3.14 and 3.38, respectively. But both floods happened in February when the ground was frozen and the water was unable to soak into the soil.
Even though 3.14 and 3.38 inches rain does not amount to 82.4 billion gallons of water it is still gallons upon gallons of water. With no soil to sink into, it went to the only place it could: directly into the Blanchard River, driving it to flood stage and beyond.
Eventually the weather pattern will change and the city may not see a flood for several years. After the 1959 flood the city did not flood for more than four years.
The solution to corralling all of this rain that happens periodically is to build an earthbound levee while diverting Eagle and Lye Creeks. The flood proposal of 1962 suggested exactly these measures when it was submitted to the City Council. The proposal was even voted in by the council and sent to Congress in October of 1963.
So why was it not done forty-six years ago?
Findlay Mayor Pete Sehnert explains that there are several theories as to why the project was never completed. One such speculation is that after the loss of President Kennedy in November of 1963 there was so much upheaval in Washington the proposal was forgotten. Another theory is that the federal funding for the proposal was not available at that time. The Army Corp of Engineers is currently looking into exactly what happened to the forgotten flood plan.
The earth levee proposed in 1962 was to be built near the reservoir. The levee was to stand 3 to 4 feet higher than the level of the 1913 flood. The levee would be able to hold water running at 32,000 cubic feet per second. This is the best solution for taking care of the rain as the levee would keep the city from filling with water should another major flood occur.
Diverting Eagle and Lye Creeks would begin to the south of Findlay, taking Eagle Creek to the east where it would meet up with Lye Creek. The channel would then turn north and be able to hold water running at 8,500 cubic feet per second. A weir would be constructed downstream from Eagle Creek allowing for a gated conduit in the levee barrier. A second gate would be placed where Eagle Creek merges with the Blanchard River. The gates would allow for run off to flow into the river.
During high water the gates would close, thereby alleviating the flooding to the city. Lye Creek would be permanently diverted into the channel. These are the best solutions for the heavy rainfall Findlay sometimes experiences, according to the Army Engineers. These solutions are again being examined by the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership and are likely to become part of the overall plan when its feasibility study is completed.
Another cause of flooding is the height of the Main Street and Cory Street bridges. The bridges were built too low, and they act as a dam for the water. During a major flood the water backs up, cutting off roadways through downtown. The flood proposal of 1962 suggested that the bridges be rebuilt to 100-year-flood specifications.
The Main Street and Cory Street bridges have been redone in recent years yet they are still too low. Even building them to the height of the proposed floodwalls would be a huge help. The floodwalls are to be put at locations where relocating a building would be more expensive than erecting the floodwall.
According to city councilman John Urbanski raising the bridges would involve a lot of money. It also would necessitate taking down one full city block to the north and south. It would seem that the city authorities can’t see spending the money even though it was recently stated in The Courier that the city is banking over a million dollars a year. Yet the money would be well spent and there would no longer be a need to reroute all traffic to the interstate during a flood.
Another main cause of all the flooding is early development in the city. Letters to the editor in The Courier have blasted the city authorities for allowing Wal-Mart to build in an area known to flood. People are also upset that the city voted to let Swale Park and the old tire dump be developed into RiverPlace Center. Some residents though believe that development in flood-prone areas act as a dam of sorts, pushing the water back towards the river instead of letting it soak into the soil.
Mayor Sehnert, Councilman Urbanski and Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold all disagree with the view that development has been a major cause to the flooding. According to Mayor Sehnert, all of the building in the city over the last 50 years has not changed the floodway through town.
If, at anytime, development played a major part in the flooding it was when the city was first built. Back in the 1800s when Findlay was settled the area was known as the "Black Swamp." Water completely covered the area from Findlay to Bowling Green. The water had to be drained into surrounding streams and rivers so the area could be settled.
It's not as if RiverPlace will never flood; it will, unless solutions are put in place. There are a number of provisions for RiverPlace. The planned baseball field will be built more deeply and could act as a retention pond. The floodwall proposed in 1962, which is again being looked at as a citywide solution, would take care of the any chance that RiverPlace would flood. The proposed floodwalls also would benefit the site of the Trenton Avenue Wal-Mart, where the river flows just south of the store in a low-lying area.
Whether RiverPlace development will make other areas flood worse, only time will tell as to who is right or wrong on this issue. If anything is wrong with the RiverPlace idea, it is that the citizens did not get the chance to approve the plan in a citywide vote. It is a great opportunity for growth, and as RiverPlace becomes popular the downtown area becomes active as well. It is upsetting that city authorities took it upon themselves to put the development into motion without consulting the taxpayers, yet in the end our city will benefit from all that RiverPlace will have to offer.
Taking a look at what other cities have done to address their flood problem is an excellent way to help find Findlay’s perfect solutions. Ingold personally visited Grand Forks, N.D. in late 2007. Several officials were to make the trip to North Dakota, but as a result of circumstances Ingold traveled alone. After the August flood, county and city officials wanted to know what (if anything) could be learned from others. Ingold reaffirms that there is definitely something to learn from Grand Forks.
The city is similar to Findlay as it is very flat with several low-lying areas and sits along the banks of a river. Grand Forks experienced the most devastating flood in the state's history in April of 1997. Starting in November 1996 a wave of blizzards swept through the city along with regular snowfall, accumulating 98.6 inches of snow over the next six months.
Flood stage for the Red River through Grand Forks is 28 feet. That spring, the National Weather Service had predicted that the river would crest before 49 feet, but it was off by more than 4 feet. The river crested at 54.11 feet. All 50,000 residents had to be evacuated to other areas. A gas line rupture started a fire in the historical downtown, but fire crews could not reach the blaze because of the high water. Eleven building were either completely destroyed or heavily damaged. Residents could not inhabit the city for more than six months after the flood. More than 20,000 volunteers came from all over to help them recover.
After this devastating flood, Grand Forks officials knew they never wanted to see another one like it. They implemented a feasibility study and found their solutions. With the help of the federal government Grand Forks under took a $400 million dollar flood prevention plan. The city has since built a flood wall along the banks of the Red River, accommodated by a series of levees complete with four pump houses spread through the city. The pump houses were specifically designed to match the area of town in which they were built. Two of the pump houses in the business district look just like any other business office. Two were built in residential areas to the specifications of the residents. Ingold remarked that if one did not know any better they could pass right by the pump houses thinking they were just anther home.
Grand Forks officials and residents pulled together and found their perfect solutions to dispense with flood water. Findlay has that same chance, yet petty bickering has severely damaged any team efforts being made. The perfect solutions are sitting right in front of the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership; they just need the time to complete their feasibility study. A bit of patience from the citizens of Findlay would be appreciated.
An excellent compromise would be to put the issue on the November ballot. The earthbound levee, flood walls and the diversion of the two creeks would take care of the flood problem just as well now as it would have back in 1962. There may have to be some readjustment to the 1962 plan as development has occurred over the 46 years, yet it can be easily done. These are the best solutions both economically and development-wise. They will take care of the cities flood problem perfectly.
So stop bickering and put the solutions to work.