County seeks federal funds for flood study

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 7, 2000

County commissioners sought a federal funding solution Monday to Symmes Creek high water problems.

Tuesday, March 07, 2000

County commissioners sought a federal funding solution Monday to Symmes Creek high water problems.

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The county has asked U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland to transfer $100,000 in federal budget accounts that will pay for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reconnaisance study of the Symmes Creek watershed, which seems plagued with higher and higher floods each year, commissioner Paul Herrell said.

"Whether it’s sediment or heavy runoffs, something’s wrong," Herrell said. "The water in Symmes Creek comes up too often, too high and it’s staying too long."

The Corps will help pinpoint the problem by conducting the study, then help the county follow up with corrections that might be undertaken through grants, he said.

Commissioners asked Corps officials to attend last week’s meeting to address Ohio River lock and dam procedures and polices of debris removal on its tributaries.

Herrell had theorized that slow release of water from the dams had backed up water into Symmes Creek and others. The Corps said the dams don’t have the capacity to hold back enough of water to flood rural areas like Aid.

Arabia farmer Bob Taylor told the Corps that there is a problem somewhere because water from mid-February’s rain caused the creek to overflow into his fields for four days – a situation that has occurred only during large floods like that of 1997.

To find the root cause of such flooding, Corps officials recommended the flood-type study, called a reconnaisance study, of the three-county area that drains into Symmes Creek.

The Corps believes that there is a blockage of water runoff from Symmes Creek into the river, Herrell said.

"I still suspect the locks and dams but this has drawn the Corps’s attention and they are interested in helping us," he said.

Federal law allows the Corps to assist local communities like Lawrence County with plans regarding stream flooding.

"The study will examine what problems are there and propose recommended solutions," said Steve Wright, a public affairs officials with the Corps.

"Until we do it, we have no feel for what it might be," Wright said. "You could dredge and clean it but if you don’t solve the problem, it will just fill up again."

The six- to nine-month study will examine all aspects of the 415-square-mile Symmes Creek basin, from environmental problems with unclaimed strip mine land to the north to flooding levels on each of the creek’s local tributaries, he added.

Soil might be entering the stream because of higher than normal erosion from abandoned mines, from damaged streambanks or in other ways, Wright said.

The Symmes Creek area’s wetlands also will be studied because "they’re nature’s sponge" in heavy rains, soaking up excess water, he said.

"We have a lot of different things to look at but we will focus on sedimentation as a problem."

Eventually solving the problem might be difficult, given the fact that Symmes Creek is 99 miles long – one mile short of the official river designation.

"So it has the same type of management problems as a true river," Wright said.

And, the entire study and any impending solutions recommended relies upon the funding procedures that must be made in Congress,

If Strickland makes the necessary fund transfer, the study could begin within weeks, Herrell said.

Monday, Herrell urged Symmes Creek Restoration Committee members and county residents to write or call for Strickland’s support.

Herrell also said if the study finds a problem that can be fixed through specific projects – from streambank improvements to sediment removal, for example – then there might be as much as $5 million in grants to start the project.

But the costs will have to be shared on a percentage basis with the local community, he said.

Strickland can be reached in writing at: 336 Cannon Office Building, First Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20515, Herrell said.