LINDSBORG – According to our gauge it rained ten times between May 6 and May 27 – 10¾ inches, a lot of rain for us in three weeks. Add another three inches-plus from three storms at the end of April, and it tops 14 inches in five weeks.
This aggravated more flood watching. The Smoky Hill rose quickly, debris skimming along at 12 to 15 knots. The dam at the Old Mill Museum was submerged. The Mill’s wheelworks and the steps down to it, went under. The surging river rattled the old iron bridge, spilled over its south banks and put the camp grounds in water to the table tops.
Elsewhere, peril. New Cambria, near the convergence of the Saline, Solomon and Smoky Hill, was cut off. Across Kansas, rain and runoff filled ponds, lakes and reservoirs to the brim. Rivers flooded over cropland and into towns. More than 50 counties have declared disasters, and the damage is hardly limited to Kansas. Great rivers and their tributaries roll down through the Plains into the Mississippi and on to the Gulf. A lot of land along the way is under water, with more coming.
Lindsborg is soggy but not flooded. This is largely because a flood calamity, in 2013, provoked the City to find a plan to avoid future disasters.
A lot of us remember that flood. It began with dark skies on a Monday, July 29, the air heavy with mist and the sputter of rain. An inch had fallen on Sunday and overnight, and another slow quarter-inch had come early Monday after dawn.
Before that it had rained five times – 4¼ inches – between July 11 and July 20. Then on the 25th, a vicious storm brought another 3¼ inches over four and one-half hours.
On July 29, that thick mist turned to rain at 11 a.m. and the heavens began to spill – in three hours, another 4¾ inches. The ground had been long saturated and as the rain continued there was nowhere for it to go but into homes. By that evening another inch had fallen.
On that Monday, six inches of rain. For the month, 14½. Of that, more than nine inches in four days.
Much of north Lindsborg went under water. Over the town nearly 200 homes were wrecked, or inundated, or with basement water to the floor joists and higher. In many places, power lines were down, sewers backed up and gas lines broke, compounding the dismay and the hazard. Hundreds of lives were scarred but none were lost. The damage, $5 million to $10 million.
Greg DuMars, Lindsborg’s City Administrator, called a hydraulic engineer immediately to study the flood. “What he found was incredible,” DuMars said, “Thursday’s rain (July 25) was equal to a 200-year flood event ‒ and then on Monday (July 29) we had another 200-year flood event. In five days we had two 200-year flood events…This was the equivalent of 9.2 trillion gallons of water flowing through our community.”
We had the same amount recently, but those 14 inches fell more evenly, over time. The ground in both events was soaked when the big storms came – and this year, the night of May 18, we were hit with 2½ inches of hail. City Hall kept watch, cleared hail and debris from the streets and large storm drains, and a flood disaster this time was not about to happen.
A plan to fix things had been adopted after the 2013 flood. Drainage channels and sloughs in and near the city would be cleared, rebuilt; there were new culverts with reinforced flood gates, a new bridge, among other measures. It was a long process and the costs would run into millions.
To pay for this, the City in 2017 created a stormwater utility fee with revenues dedicated to flood control and maintenance. It’s a cousin to other municipal fees and committed to a specific purpose. Unlike more eye-catching projects (a building, a new bridge or rebuilt road) this project was intended to produce no gleam or glitter, but to keep dry what we have.
Projects critical to flood control in Lindsborg had been delayed for years; Seven of them, estimated at a total $1.2 million, were on hold. The City’s property tax was already strained. It only made sense to create a new source of revenue and dedicate it to stormwater management. The flood control fee is $7 monthly for homes, more for big structures depending on the property’s total impervious area.
It has worked well. The stormwater fee is one in a line of long-term thinking that credits the City’s adept management and provides reassurance against a flood threat. Best of all, it frees us to enjoy our Kansas Calvinism. Twelve days into a dry month we can worry that any recent rains are sure to be the season’s last, and drought looms.
– JOHN MARSHALL