High water: Flooding is history in the making


SALEM, Ohio – Dan Crawford remembers tales his grandmother used to tell of walking to school through knee-deep snow. He believed her, sort of.
When Crawford’s children, now just 10 and 11, look back and tell their grandchildren the same types of stories about the things they did in 2005, they’ll have photos to back them up.
Last week, Crawford took his daughter and son for a ride through northwestern Tuscarawas County, armed with cameras to capture history as it happened.
He took his children to see a farm his family has rented for 25 years. Their 250 acres right below the Bolivar Dam is nearly all under water.
One pasture on top of a hill is all that’s left to show that Dan Crawford raises dairy replacement heifers here.
“This is major water like I’ve never seen before in my life,” said Crawford, 44, from Strasburg.
A total wash. Forty acres of rye and wheat Crawford had hoped to harvest come spring is covered with what he estimates to be 18 feet of water.
The heifers were herded to a pasture above the barn here, the only land left above water.
Nearby homes are on their own little island, Crawford says. Some people are resisting the evacuations.
If the water continues to rise, Crawford and his children will have to take another route to get to this barn to do chores. That adds another 35 miles to their trip.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do. I’m not upset. I’m amazed that water came in as fast as it did,” he said.
Away from Bolivar. Bolivar, in the northern part of Tuscarawas County, was hard-hit last week as water from the Tuscarawas River poured over its banks and over dams into surrounding neighborhoods.
The last county road into or out of town was closed Jan. 13, according to county extension ag educator Chris Zoller.
The northbound exit ramp from Interstate 77 is closed, too. It’s underwater.
Nearby, a golf course has vanished into what now looks like a lake, and Zoller said locals have taken to riding Jet Skis across the property.
“It’s pretty incredible, the amount of water that we’ve gotten,” Zoller said.
As of presstime, Tuscarawas County had received an official 6.15 inches of rain since Jan. 1. Nearly 2 inches of that fell Jan. 8-12. The National Weather Service says that figure is 4.87 inches more than normal for January.
However, the figures may not reflect actual rainfall recorded at homes across the county. Crawford said his rain gauge has measured 11 inches of rain since Jan. 1.
No surprise. Muskingum Farm Service Agency county director Bill Huston hears flooding stories from farmers he works with. He also has his own flood to deal with at home.
Seventy acres of his property is underwater near the Dillon Dam in Muskingum County.
What would he do if this was June, or any month during the growing season? he wonders.
He couldn’t switch pastures. If he did, his option would be to push the flock onto crop acreage. It would be planted, and the crops would be thriving. He couldn’t lose the crops.
Right now, the flock is grazing hilltop corn stubble. If it were summer, they’d be in the low areas swallowed up by the tentacles of the Muskingum River.
“Yeah, this is horrible now, but it could have been worse. A lot worse,” Huston said.
“Let’s all be glad we weren’t in the prime farming season.”
He speaks for a number of farmers in east-central Ohio whose fields and farms are under water, casualties of heavy January rains.
The National Weather Service says Muskingum County has received 6.76 inches of rain since Jan. 1, almost 5 1/2 inches more than normal.
Not pretty. In Muskingum County there are reports of flattened fence lines and livestock washed away, according to extension ag educator Mark Mechling.
Pooled water has cut off roadways between farms and stranded livestock on hillsides, he said.
The biggest problem at this point is getting feed to the livestock. Some farmers who stacked round bales of hay along streams watched their hay wash away.
Near the Dillon Dam area on the county’s west side, Mechling reports at least 100 acres of wheat fields under water.
Mechling said the Muskingum River’s Dillon Dam was at a historic high, causing water to back up in areas that have never seen standing water before.
“It’s been a crazy fall and winter this year. Everyone’s talking about this, but so far, farmers are managing. It’s just another obstacle or challenge we face,” he said.
New records. Clifton Kilpatrick, resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers at Dillon, said two new records have been set in the past two weeks.
The highest water level recorded there has been 788 feet above sea level. Normal wintertime levels are 734 feet, Kilpatrick said.
The previous record of 772 feet was set in 1964.
“Waters are still high, and we’re just trying to get rid of some. The good news is the dam is doing exactly what it was designed to do,” Kilpatrick said.
As of presstime, Kilpatrick said engineers are releasing water at a rate of three-hundredths of a foot per hour. That’s not much, he said, but will help balance flooding both above and below the dam.
New at Bolivar. One new record was set Jan. 14 at the Bolivar Dam, according to Nick Krupa, operations manager there. The water crested at 951.65 feet, roughly 50 feet above normal, and beat the old record set in 1991 by more than a foot.
“We’re keeping the main stem of the Muskingum River going here,” Krupa said, noting the Bolivar engineers are limited in their outflow since that water drains directly into the already-flooded Dover Dam floodplain.
“We’re releasing water at a higher rate than normal, but the lakes will still be at high levels well into February,” Krupa said.
Krupa also said local farmers can count on standing water in fields and low areas well into the spring planting season.
Farmers hurting. From an agricultural perspective, Zoller said most farmers have been pretty lucky: At this time of year, the only crop in the fields is winter wheat.
Zoller said getting around the county to look at fields is difficult and he wasn’t sure if the wheat crop would be a total loss, but farmers will be crossing their fingers until spring.
There’s no telling what will be in the fields until the water drains, Zoller said.
Dan Crawford said he’s already seen garbage, logs and other debris floating around his barn. He doesn’t look forward to weeks of spring cleaning – hauling away the garbage washed onto his property from upstream.
Zoller holds hope things will only get better from here for the waterlogged counties.
“It’s not raining now. We’ve got a good forecast ahead,” he said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)
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Flood help on the way
SALEM, Ohio – County Farm Service Agencies in flooded areas are gearing up to request money from the USDA for emergency conservation programs, says Bill Huston, FSA county director in Muskingum County.
The cost-share programs may help farmers with $1,000 or more in losses or damage, he said.
“We’re looking for true disaster here. Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of it with this flooding,” Huston said.
How it works. Funds from the program can be used for shaping, grading and leveling of the land, as well as removal of sediment and debris.
Other acceptable uses are repairing permanent fencing, structures and sod waterways, Huston said.
Huston said the Muskingum agency would likely request up to $400,000 from USDA for their efforts, but the amount they’re awarded may vary significantly.
For more information or to apply for assistance, contact your county Farm Service Agency.
– Andrea Myers


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