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Kickapoo Valley flooding subject of DNR and FEMA meeting
Grove Bridge 1951
One of the worst floods to hit the Kickapoo Valley occurred in 1951. This is an image of the old bridge in Soldiers Grove at the time of that flood.

VIROQUA - The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) will hold a meeting on Monday, March 26, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Vernon County Erlandson Building, 318 Fairlane Drive in Viroqua. The meeting is intended to begin an evaluation of the floodplain maps and mitigation planning needs in the Kickapoo River Watershed.

“The meeting is intended for county officials in the watershed,” WDNR employee Betsy Finlay explained. “If you have particular concerns, you should share them with your county officials.”

Finlay said that if the decision is to take the process to the next step, then there would be an open house meeting for citizens to provide input.

The stated goal of the ‘Discovery Process’ is to work with local communities to better understand local flood risk, mitigation efforts, and spark watershed-wide discussions about increasing resilience to flooding. The process is described as “critical” in determining the need for a new Risk MAP project within the watershed.

At the meeting, FEMA and WDNR representatives will present the process and review the flood risk data gathered to date. There will be a discussion of community flooding history, flood mapping needs, and local flood risk concerns. It is intended as a great opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the components and activities that contribute to the watershed’s flood risk, and identify proactive steps to protect communities.

“This is not a routine, every few years, type meeting,” Finlay said. “This meeting is being held because the Kickapoo River Watershed is an area that has experienced recurring flooding.”

Finlay explained that some of the outcomes of the meeting could be that a new detailed engineering study could be ordered and some areas might be marked for mitigation.

“People who know the local area will be able to mark up maps,” Finlay said. “Our goal is to find out things about the local area that FEMA and the DNR don’t know about.”

Why now?

In response to the question, “Why now?,” a FEMA employee responded that the WDNR has listed the Kickapoo River Watershed as a priority. The process to be undertaken will result in an update of stream miles and flood insurance maps.

The employee also specified that the WDNR is also in receipt of updated Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data for the watershed, which has resulted in physically updated topography data for the Kickapoo Watershed.

LIDAR is an optical remote-sensing technique that uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the earth, producing highly accurate x,y,z measurements. Lidar, primarily used in airborne laser mapping applications, is emerging as a cost-effective alternative to traditional surveying techniques such as photogrammetry. Lidar produces mass point cloud datasets that can be managed, visualized, analyzed, and shared using ArcGIS.

The major hardware components of a lidar system include a collection vehicle (aircraft, helicopter, vehicle, and tripod), laser scanner system, GPS (Global Positioning System), and INS (inertial navigation system). An INS system measures roll, pitch, and heading of the lidar system.

Lidar is an active optical sensor that transmits laser beams toward a target while moving through specific survey routes. The reflection of the laser from the target is detected and analyzed by receivers in the lidar sensor. These receivers record the precise time from when the laser pulse left the system to when it is returned to calculate the range distance between the sensor and the target. Combined with the positional information (GPS and INS), these distance measurements are transformed to measurements of actual three-dimensional points of the reflective target in object space.

The point data is post-processed after the lidar data collection survey into highly accurate geo-referenced x,y,z coordinates by analyzing the laser time range, laser scan angle, GPS position, and INS information.

FEMA’s process

The ‘Discovery Process’ that FEMA in partnership with WDNR is initiating with the meeting in Viroqua aims to work with the local community to understand the local perspective on flooding problems.

Local insights will be integrated, when possible, to create a baseline view of the flooding problem in the Kickapoo River Watershed. The view will include the history of mitigation efforts, pointing out particular areas of interest, and to identify the detail of study that should be applied to understanding the situation.

After the initial meeting which will gather together officials from all the counties that comprise the Kickapoo River Watershed, there will be a series of follow up phone calls which will ultimately result in a draft report which documents the needs for future studies and flooding mitigation efforts. After receiving feedback, a final report and map will be released.

After a process that may take not months, but years, the new maps will be released for citizen review.

Input topics

For citizens in the Kickapoo River Watershed, your best avenue at this time to have input into this process is to contact your elected representatives in county government, or the emergency managers in your county.

Relevant topics may include: fire and first responder access and response in a disaster; land use contributing to flooding; infrastructure concerns; specific problem areas in communities; drainage issues; and river restoration.

For Crawford County, you can find a listing of your county supervisors at; for Vernon County, at; for Richland County at; and Monroe County at

Crawford County

Emergency Manager: Jim Hackett, 608-326-0266

County Board Chair: Tom Cornford, 608-326-2900,

Vernon County

Emergency Manager and County Board Chair: Dennis Brault, 608-634-2146

Richland County

Emergency Manager: Darin Gudgeon, 608-647-8187

County Board Chair: Jeannetta Kirkpatrick, 608-627-1159,

Monroe County

Emergency Manager: Cedric Schnitzler, 608-269-8705

County Board Chair: Darlene Pintarro, 608-269-8711