Ready for Flood Waters to Rise

By: Melissa Wollering Email
By: Melissa Wollering Email

The city of Darlington may get a chance to test its newest flood action plan for the first time with this week's wet weather.

In 1994, less than two inches of rain combined with melting snow caused moderate flooding. That is why the city is constantly on alert. When levels rise on the Pecatonica River, Darlington police begin checking them every half hour. Over the last seventeen years, the city has seen nine floods.

"In the 1990's, having experienced a flood nearly every year there, had to be some type of action taken," says Darlington Police Chief Jason King.

The Pecatonica River reaches flood stage at 13.5 feet. At fifteen feet, Main Street is covered by water.

"The major business district is all in the downtown region where flood waters rise to in the event of an emergency," says Chief King.

"It was having such an economic impact on our community plus the impact it was having on our buildings, which are on the state and national historical register," says Darlington's former mayor Beverly Anderson. "We wanted to preserve the buildings also."

Over the last few years, city leaders used federal and state grants to relocate buildings, make architectural changes to them and purchase shields to preserve businesses. The metal shields serve as flood gates and are stored in a shed near the river bank. Each shield is labeled with a picture of the business it can be used to protect in the case of an emergency.

"As you go into the buildings, you'll enter into a vestibule where there are steps that go up to floor levels that were taken up above flood level," says Anderson.

If water rises up above the steps and onto the store's floor, drains with sump pumps prevent further flooding. On Thursday morning, Police Chief Jason King measured river levels at 2.3 feet, well below concern levels.

"The river would need to be at ten feet before the police department would even take action," says Chief King.

That is when officers notify businesses and activate the shield program. While the city has not yet had to put it to use, residents say it is only a matter of time.

"In 2004, we had a flood caused by a mix of rain and melting snow and we actually only had an inch and a half of rain during that 24 hour period," says King.

"We're hoping the impact on the downtown district won't be what it was in the past," says Anderson.

The project cost Darlington between five and ten million dollars. Federal and state grants helped.

Now the city is used as an example to other at risk cities nationwide. FEMA brings busloads of government officials and engineers to take a look at Darlington's progress in emergency management.


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