Could we handle another big flood?

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As I sit here writing this article, the weather has been less than pleasant. I watch it transition from rain to snow, to sleet, and back to rain.

Being the conservation minded person I am, I can’t help but observe streams and ditches as I drive back and forth to work. The movement of water across our landscape may be one of the most important environmental issues that we deal with in our lives.

Water can be a necessary evil. We are dependent on water for virtually everything in life. Our bodies are 70 percent water. We require water for cooking, cleaning, food and entertainment.

Destructive

It is our responsibility to make the best decisions possible to protect the water quality of our country. The flip side of this is that water can also be the very thing that destroys an individual or a town.

Most recently let us look at the path of destruction left behind by hurricane Katrina. Lives were turned upside down due to the volume of water residents were left to deal with in a very short time frame. Sometimes there is no amount of planning or prevention that can protect our communities from devastation.

Now that we are in March, I can’t help but think of one of the greatest disasters the state of Ohio ever endured, the 1913 flood. Many communities through out Ohio will soon be commemorating the centennial anniversary of this event.

I have been researching the history of this flood, and cannot even imagine what it would have been like to have dealt with that horrible situation. The statewide extent of death and destruction of the Flood of 1913 exceeds all other weather events in Ohio history, justifying the title of “Ohio’s greatest weather disaster.”

Rainfall over the state totaled 6-11 inches, and no section was unaffected. The death toll was more than 460 and more than 40,000 homes were flooded and more than 250,000 were left homeless.

These numbers may seem miniscule to some of you, but let’s think back to 1913. The amount of people living in our country was nowhere near what it is today. The amount of impermeable material was almost nonexistent.

What would happen if this natural disaster occurred today? I can’t help but think it could be even more devastating.

What happened

At Dayton, the Great Miami River flooded 14 square miles of the city and water ran in swift currents 10 feet deep through downtown streets. The flood killed 123 people in Dayton.

Downstream on the Miami River, there were about 100 deaths in Hamilton where the water was 10 to 18 feet deep in residential areas. Approximately 100 died in Columbus when the Scioto River reached record levels and poured 9 to 17 feet deep through neighborhoods.

Many Columbus residents escaped to the safety of rooftops and trees. Thirteen people were rescued from a single tree.

Downstream most of Chillicothe was under water. The Muskingum River at Zanesville crested 27 feet above flood stage and water was 20 feet deep at several downtown intersections. Only the lampposts were visible from the Y-bridge.

The Maumee River crested 10 feet above flood stage at Defiance, where 268 homes were under water. Many people were rescued from rooftops and trees in Tiffin, but 19 died when homes collapsed into the Sandusky River.

The Cuyahoga River washed away docks, lumberyards, trains and railyards in Cleveland. Seven locks were dynamited on the Ohio Canal at Akron, allowing the floodwaters to pour into the Cuyahoga. Levees along the Ohio River at Portsmouth were topped, flooding 4,500 homes. The Ohio River at Cinicinnati rose 21 feet in 24 hours.

Results

As terrible as this event was, it did inspire many future actions that have since protected many people. Catastrophes such as this helped lead to the development of regional flood control systems, as well as the establishment of a nationwide emergency system.

As communities I think we do a good job of trying to prevent disaster and loss of life in flood prone areas. I can’t help but wonder though, how would we handle this today?

Without a doubt we are much better prepared to forecast such a rain event and alert residents to potential dangers. However, I can’t help but be a bit frightened by the devastation that would occur. Look at how the population has grown since 1913. We have so much infrastructure and impermeable material that the runoff of rain water would be unimaginable.

I do believe in our area that the development of the Mohicanville dry dam, and the family of dams that are included with the Muskingum Watershed have allowed for much better control of floodwaters. However, I am also not too naive to believe that we can control or prevent everything.

Do our weather patterns indicate that this could possibly be in our future? Are you prepared? I would encourage all of you to try and put yourself in the position of those affected by past and current natural disasters. Have we done all that we can?

About the Author

Cathy Berg, Program Administrator for the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District for 15 past years. Bachelor of Science Degree from The Ohio State University. Major in Agronomy with soils specialization and a minor in Natural Resources Management. More Stories by Cathy Berg

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