WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Although the wheels of federal studies and funding seem to grind exceedingly slow, nevertheless progress is being made on finding a solution to the flood control dams that breached in 2018.
USDA-NRCS is about to solicit public feedback on possible solutions identified through their year-long study, and U.S. Congressman Ron Kind and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin are taking an active interest in the situation.
Kind, Gregg Wavrunek from Senator Baldwin’s staff, and Wisconsin State Senator Brad Pfaff visited the site of the breached dam at Jersey Valley County Park on Thursday, June 10. The purpose of the visit was to view the damage in person, see the fractured hillside that gave way, and discuss paths forward with the three county conservationists present.
“We need a long-term solution to flooding in the Kickapoo River Valley, and to addressing the flood control infrastructure that helps to achieve that,” Kind said. “We need to prevent the problem from happening versus addressing it after the fact as a disaster.”
Kind asked the Monroe, Vernon and LaCrosse county conservationists what kinds of federal support would best help move the project forward.
“The NRCS study has focused on evaluating whether the cost-benefit analysis from the work plans developed before the dams were built showed that having the dams was a good investment,” Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn said. “Now, the question is whether continuing to have them in place for another 50 years would be a good investment.”
Originally the dams were built to be able to handle a rain event of four-to-six inches in a 24-hour period. The rainfall definitions are updated periodically by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and expressed in their ‘Atlas 14’ data. Currently, based on 2012 data, a 100-year rain event is defined as 7.2 inches within a 24-hour period.
“The rain event that breached the dams in 2018 was a 14-inch rainfall that came in about eight hours,” Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel told Kind. “These dams simply weren’t built to withstand a rain event like that.”
Micheel told Kind that of Monroe County’s seven dams in the Coon Creek Watershed, three had actually breached, but all seven had overtopped in the 2018 storm event. LaCrosse County Conservationist Matt Hanewall said that of the two dams in the Coon Creek Watershed in LaCrosse County, one had overtopped in 2018, but neither had failed.
“Because the dams were built to control flooding in a watershed, they all work together,” Hanewall said. “What this means is that any solution won’t involve just one or another of the dams, but all of the dams as an aggregate.”
Wojahn told Kind that the three counties had requested that NRCS explore the extent to which upland land treatments that increase water infiltration in the soil could help to reduce the amount of runoff the dams must handle in storm events in their study.
“It turns out that upland land treatments alone could handle the runoff from a 25-year storm event,” Wojahn said.
Kind said that the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Bill, being developed in Congress right now, is intended to provide funding to pursue more long-term solutions. He said the bill could help to pay for the studies and planning to ensure that any solutions can address future shifts in the climate.
“We’re at a kind of watershed moment right now, experiencing the impacts of climate change and understanding the importance of soil health and carbon sequestration,” Hanewall said. “Building soil health is also the solution to reducing runoff from storm events by increasing the soil’s capacity to hold water.”
State Senator Brad Pfaff said that Governor Ever’s Badger Bounce Back Plan also would provide support at the state level for communities to pursue climate resilience.
Kind emphasized the importance of strong public input in the upcoming scoping meetings. NRCS plans to roll out the results of their study and proposed solutions at two upcoming meetings in the West Fork Kickapoo and Coon Creek watersheds.
“It is crucial that the public understand what led to the 2018 flooding, what the challenges we’re facing are, and what the possible solutions to the problem may be,” Kind said. “Securing input from the public is essential to moving this process forward.”
La Crosse, Monroe, and Vernon counties, in partner-ship with the Natural Re-sources Conservation Service (NRCS), are preparing watershed plans and environmental impact statements (EIS) for both the Coon Creek and West Fork Kickapoo watersheds to address flooding and the failed flood control dams.
Alternatives include dam decommissioning, replacement of the dams, conservation practices in the upper watershed to reduce runoff, and improvements down-stream of the dams to reduce flooding or mitigate flood damages.
Information gathered from agencies, interested parties, and the public on a range of possible alternatives will aid in refining the alternatives, identifying potential environmental issues, and selection of a preferred alternative.
Information regarding the proposed alternatives will be available on the project website at least one week prior to the first meeting, www.wfkandccwatersheds.com. If you would like mapping in hard copy for-mat, please contact Keri Hill, Project Manager, at the contact below.
The West Fork Kickapoo Watershed meeting will be held on June 22 at the Cash-ton Community Hall, 812 Main Street, Cashton, at 5:30 p.m.
The Coon Creek Water-shed meetings will be held on June 23 at the Coon Valley Legion Hall, 105 Park St, Coon Valley, at 5:30 p.m.
The meeting will follow current COVID-19 guidelines. As of the publication of this notice, COVID-19 restrictions will include facemasks and limited seating. Chairs will be spaced every six feet. Only one representative from each household should attend in-person. Remote viewing of the live presentation will be available through Microsoft Teams; visit the project website at www.wfkandccwatersheds.com for the web link and instructions.
Written comments will be accepted through July 16 and recorded in the public record. Written comments can be (i) presented at the meetings, (ii) submitted through Microsoft Teams during the meetings, (iii) submitted on the project website, (iv) emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or (v) mailed to Sundance Consulting, 305 N. 3rd Ave, Ste. B, Pocatello, ID 83201. Verbal comments may be left via voicemail at 208-550-2056.
Services for persons with disabilities will be made available if notice is received in advance of the meeting by calling or emailing Keri Hill at 208-550-2056, email@example.com.