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Council updated on Aug. 17 rains

December 6, 2018

The Watertown Common Council met as a Committee of the Whole Tuesday for an update on the Aug. 17 rain event.

Fire Chief Kraig Biefeld of the Watertown Fire Department reported that 8.6 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period. In his PowerPoint presentation, he had a large list of streets that flooded.

“This really wasn’t predicted,” Biefeld said, adding how the city expected pop-up storms that would eventually stop.

Biefeld showed data from a river gauge of Rock River that shows the impact of all the water from Aug. 17. He said after 7 a.m. there was a sharp rise in water levels up to about 10 or 11 a.m.

“It went from a normal, average river flow all the way up to almost a moderate flood stage within a few hours,” Biefeld said.

He said it went from 100 cubic feet per second to almost 4,600 cubic feet per second.

He told the council about the city departments’ responses to the flooding and the recovery and ongoing events from Aug. 17 to the present. The city had data collected of water damage, had emergency management contact with Dodge and Jefferson counties, sent out a press releases, had media reports and departmental public service announcements.

The council was shown images of various flooded streets from the rain event such as South Street, River Drive, Hart Street, Hoffmann Drive, Belmont Drive and more.

On Aug. 29 there was a statewide state of emergency issued from Aug. 20 to present but the start date of the weather event was changed to Aug. 17.

On Oct. 18, a major disaster was approved for the state of Wisconsin by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but the city of Watertown was not named as part of the area that was eligible for individual assistance or public assistance.

Facebook posts, press releases and letters were sent out to residents asking them to contact the fire department with damage estimates.

Biefeld said 114 reports had water in residences. He added the damage total reported was $376,242. However, 55.3 percent of those locations did not provide damage data.

Two occupancies reported over $50,000 in damage and 15% of damage that was reported was covered by insurance.

He also said the city’s two government buildings had a reported damage total of $452,676 and most of it was covered by insurance.

Biefeld also discussed rain events that occurred in 1982, 1996, 2006 and 2008. He then explained mitigation efforts made during those floods.

Biefeld listed a number of plans for mitigation and preparation for future rain events such as National Incident Management System training for streets, water and elected officials; PIO training for the cable coordinator; sump pump discharge from city hall; river gauges on Cady Street and Oconomowoc Street and more.

Alderwoman Emily McFarland said she is excited that there are plans for her and the council to be trained.

“I’m excited for it in a way of when an event actually occurs, we’re better equipped to handle constituent questions,” McFarland said.

She said what they could all do to get a better response rate during these events is to proactively talk about it with residents.

Alderman Augie Tietz asked if there were any buildings within the city flood plains and Zoning Administrator Jacob Maas said there are not a lot of city buildings in the flood plane or in special flood hazard areas.

“There was actually no flooding in the special flood hazard areas,” Maas said.

There was concern among some members of the council about blockage of storm drains and if that contributed to the August event. Pete Hartz, water systems manager and Randy Franks, street department superintendent said it was not a big issue.

A swing set was blocking one but Franks said it was difficult to keep all drains unblocked in a weather event like Aug. 17.

Alderman Bill Maron said the Watertown Public Works Commission has done studies and will continue to review those and new ones.

“It is ongoing,” Maron said.

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