DRIFTLESS - After a long COVID-related delay in news about the USDA-NRCS study of the upper portions of the West Fork Kickapoo River and Coon Creek watersheds, there is news. USDA-NRCS Wisconsin State Conservation Engineer Steve Becker has announced that an engineering firm has been engaged, and that public scoping meetings will be scheduled in the two watersheds in the next 60-90 days.
The engineering firm engaged is M&E Consultants of Heidenheimer, Texas, along with their subcontractor, Sundance-EA Associates Joint Venture of Pocatello, Idaho, has been engaged to lead the study. Their services were formally contracted effective July 1, 2020.
The federal contracting officer negotiating the contract negotiated a firm $1.8 million price. This required an additional $300,000 from NRCS. This additional amount is intended to address uncertainties in the outcomes from public scoping and reviews of the environmental impact statement (EIS).
Their contract performance period is 18-months, to develop a new project plan and EIS in each watershed. The planning for both watersheds is expected to be substantially complete by December 31, 2021.
Although M&E Consultnats will be doing the vast majority of the planning work, the EIS will be prepared under the charge of USDA-NRCS Wisconsin State Conservationist Angela Biggs. As it says in the memo, circulated by Becker, “Ms. Biggs is the responsible federal official for federal actions that could significantly affect quality of the human environment in these watersheds.”
The first six steps in the planning process, which will be separate and distinct for each watershed are:
1. Develop a stakeholder mailing list
2. Publish a ‘Notice-of-Intent to Prepare an EIS’ in the federal register
3. Develop a project website to post planning progress
4. Host a stakeholders orientation meeting
5. Initiate the hydrologic and hydraulic analysis and environmental inventories
6. Host public scoping meetings
The West Fork Kickapoo watershed is about a 64,000 acre drainage basin. The Coon Creek watershed is about a 69,000 acre drainage basin. The two watersheds are located adjacent to each other in southwest Wisconsin, just north of Viroqua.
The purpose of the watershed study and planning process is to re-evaluate the original flood control projects constructed in these watersheds between 1961-1971. In total, the West Fork Kickapoo has nine flood control dams, and Coon Creek has 14 flood control dams. Five of those 22 dams failed during an 11-inch rainfall over a six hour period in August of 2018.
Becker’s memo lists the following reason for the failure of the five dams:
“The primary reason for the failure was a vulnerability in the highly fractured sandstone abutments. In other words, high water levels in the reservoirs exploited bedrock fractures in the valley shoulders that these dams tied into.”
The memo goes on to say:
“In August of 2019, LaCrosse, Monroe and Vernon counties (the project sponsors) were awarded $1.5 million through the Watershed Flood Prevention and Operations Program to re-plan the flood control projects, with the primary objective of determining the final disposition of the failed dam sites. This will basically involve a study of the alternatives of repair, replacement, relocation or removal of the dams.”Watershed planning involves the re-evaluation of the benefit, costs and environmental consequences associated with the dams over the last 60 years.