2010-09-04 / News

Flood warning system could save lives, property

By Scott Rawdon

NEWARK – Flooding is the number one natural hazard in Licking County, the state, and the nation, according to Licking County Environmental Planner Jim Mickey. “The number one killer is when people drive into the flood,” he said. “Don’t drive around the barricades.” Mickey said Licking County is working to upgrade its flood warning system to alleviate damage and risk in places like Buckeye Lake, where floodwaters rise to cover I-70 and submerge properties on almost a regular basis.

“We have a good base of a system in place and we’re going to enhance it,” said Mickey. “I think this is a win-win for the community.” The $651,000 upgrade is funded through the cooperation of the US Geological Survey (USGS), NRCS, ODOT, the Licking County Commissioners, the Licking County Planning Department, the City of Newark, the Village of Granville, Granville Township, Denison University, and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. The system will include many stream depth gauges along Licking County’s major rivers, 14 rainfall gauges, and a new water level gauge at Buckeye Lake.

USGS Ohio Water Science Center scientist Scott Jackson said all the warning system’s components should be installed and working in approximately 24 months.

Mickey said each region within the warning system area has its own goals.

Buckeye Lake needs to warn Buckeye Lake Village residents and those who live along the South Fork Licking River as quickly as possible when flooding is a potential threat. Early warning would also help ODOT prepare to shut down I-70 and reroute traffic whenever the highway floods near the I-70 and SR 79 interchange.

A Granville area stream depth gauge provides “real time” data along with supporting a stage/ flow relationship from USGS and a site-specific flood forecast from the National Weather Service. Granville’s goal is to protect the Denison University power plant, Ross’ Food Market, a Certified gas station, the Granville Lumber Company, and other businesses south of downtown Granville.

The City of Newark’s goal is to establish an automated data and USGS stage/flow relationship to an existing high water forecast point along the North Fork Licking River near its confluence with the South Fork Licking River. This would replace a manual gauge. New flood gauges will help the Newark Water Plant anticipate flood conditions and greatly improve operational efficiency.

Mickey said predicting floods in the Licking River watershed is challenging for several reasons. First, Raccoon Creek reacts very quickly to flooding while the Licking River below the North Fork and South Fork confluence does not. Then there’s the “wild card” influence of Buckeye Lake on the South Fork Licking River and the I-70 corridor.

When the project is complete, there will be stream depth gauges at Raccoon Creek near Granville and Newark; the South Fork Licking River at Kirkersville, Hebron, and Heath; the North Fork Licking River at Utica, in Newark near the water plant, East Main Street, and Ohio Street; the Licking River near Newark, Toboso, and Dillon Falls; and Buckeye Lake. Mickey said they will transmit data along with many rain gauges outside of the Licking River Watershed to help authorities at the USGS and National Weather Service predict local flooding.

Mickey said this data is extremely important because more lives and property can be spared the sooner a flood event is predicted. In fact, according to the USGS, a 48-hour warning will reduce damages by roughly 35 percent. A 12-hour warning would account for a 23 percent reduction and even a four-hour warning would reduce damages by 10 percent. “We’re trying to lessen the ill effects of flooding,” said Mickey.

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