With the seasons changing one of these days, the weather eventually getting warmer and the snow melting, some Northwest Ohioans will have to confront the possibility that flooding could become a problem for some of us.
For us, specifically, that concerns the Portage River.
The river, which runs along State Route 105 for much of its path and is roughly 41½ miles in length, empties into Lake Erie in Port Clinton and connects Oak Harbor, Elmore, Woodville and Pemberville. It has presented flooding problems in the past and could start to do so again in the coming weeks.
Fortunately, the melting has been slow enough so far that it has not presented many challenges, but we’re far from being out of the woods.
There was flooding in parts of Wood, Sandusky and Ottawa Counties in October, and Trail Marker Park in Woodville was under water for a few days. The park was also under water for a few days a year ago, in late February 2013.
There are vulnerable areas, including trailer parks located along the river as well as vast amounts of farmland and certain stretches of road. Regions of farmland are already dealing with flooding as the snow continues to melt.
A dip in Route 105 located between Woodville and Pemberville just before the intersection with U.S. Route 23 is an area that experienced minor problems last week. On Route 19 in Oak Harbor, located away from the Portage, there is an S-curve in the road near Fremont that is well known for its history of flooding.
At this point, local officials say it’s essentially a game of wait-and-see because it’s very difficult to accurately predict the weather. Will the weather get colder? Will the weather get warmer and cause more of the snow to melt? Who knows?
“We deal with the Portage River year-round,” said Pemberville Mayor Gordon Bowman. “We’ve been fortunate not to have a major event in the last few years. We have had some minor events. A great deal of ice has been cleared from the river. Roughly 95 percent of the river is (currently) within its bounds. The river is quite dynamic. It drains into hundreds of square miles of farmland.
“We have established a volunteer committee that can react in case of emergencies. And we have an excellent fire department that is knowledgeable about our residents’ homes.”
One of the problems officials are dealing with is the fact that the snow prevents much of the precipitation from infiltrating the soil. According to Bowman, there has to be an accumulation of about three inches of rain in a few days for there to be a chance of flooding in the summer, but that number decreases in the winter because of the snow covering the ground.
Despite the concern, flooding is something area residents have learned to deal with.
“A lot of the residents are pretty knowledgeable about flooding,” Woodville Mayor Richard Harman said. “In the past, people understood that they live near the river and take the precautions. The river is flowing now and I think we’re in good shape. We don’t have any dams (from the ice jams). The water is moving along nicely. We’ve been lucky so far.”
But others living in other parts of Northwest Ohio haven’t been so lucky — at least not in the past. Findlay was the subject of national news when the town suffered a major flood in August of 2007 as the Blanchard River overflowed and reached 18.4 feet, more than seven feet above the flood stage. More recently, Findlay had problems in December when heavy rains caused the Blanchard River and Eagle Creek to flood and a number of highways traveling through the city had to be closed.
The Maumee River is an area of concern as well, specifically for residents in Waterville and Grand Rapids, a village known for its history of flood problems. In fact, the Maumee River is expected to rise to 12 feet in Grand Rapids in the coming days and has caused residents there to take precautions to protect their homes and businesses.
One of the problems Grand Rapids has to deal with is the ice jams that form along the Maumee River cause the water to clog. The specific concern is that the ice jams will serve as a dam and cause the flow of the river to be diverted, which can happen along the Portage, also.
Ice jams are so much a major concern that it became such a problem recently for residents in Sebewaing, Michigan. On Feb. 19, ice jams accumulated in the Sebewaing River were broken apart via controlled explosions that were performed by a number of government organizations, namely the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.