The dams held, downtown Beaver Dam changed forever, basements flooded and one other little thing; FEMA doesn’t cover damages unless the first floor has one foot of water on it.
In 2008 the largest flooding in memory ravaged southern Wisconsin.
“If you have a foot of water on the first floor in Wisconsin, you have a basement full of how many feet below you,” deputy director for the Dodge County Office of Emergency Management Amy Nehls said.
A submerged basement was one of many issues that rained down on Dodge County citizens and businesses five years ago.
From June 1 to June 16, Beaver Dam received more than 14 inches of rain peaking on June 16 with 845 feet. The previous record was 843 feet set in 2004.
In 2008, Beaver Dam Wastewater Utility Director Don Quarford said the flood stages were taken by going to the dam and measuring the water level by hand. The current 100-year flood elevation is more than 874 feet.
The rising floodwaters were brought to Dodge County Emergency Management’s attention on June 8 when the water began to rise, triggering an evacuation in the towns of Elba and Lowell. This also kickstarted a sandbagging operation in flooding pockets around the county.
Columbus was one of the first areas to be submerged in water when heavy rains began to fall, flooding Fireman’s Park near Columbus High School.
When the flooding was in its early stages, Beaver Dam Mayor Tom Kennedy was on a brief vacation in Wisconsin Dells with his family.
“I saw some of the devastating things that were happening at the Dells and I thought, ‘wow,’” Kennedy said. “I called home to one of our department heads to ask what the conditions were in Beaver Dam. They said, ‘It’s getting bad.’ Cooper Street was beginning to flood so I immediately came back home.”
Cooper Street had been a flood risk in 2004, another record year for flooding.
The city reacted as it did in 2004 by pumping the water over the bridge, south of Cooper Street.
“But then we shortly realized the river, the lake and the dam were being compromised by the amount of water,” Kennedy said.
Excessive amounts of water were coming downstream from Fox Lake and converging in the Beaver Dam River. This turned the river into a bottleneck with more than 1,800 cubic-feet-per-second (CFS) hitting the dam. With a “regular” bad storm, the dam sees roughly 100 CFS of moving water.
Fox Lake city administrator Bill Petracek said the flooding was progressive, as the community dealt with 18 inches of rain in a week’s time.
Highway 68 was closed a mile northeast of Fox Lake after water washed out the shoulders on both sides of the road. Between 20 and 30 homes around the Fox Lake lakeshore experienced flooding.
On June 9, 40,000 sandbags were delivered to Columbus.
Water covered the bridge across the Crawfish River on Highway 16/60 near the east end of the city, and nine city streets were closed by Sunday afternoon. As many as 500 people were estimated to have left their homes.
Within a month, about 200 people visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster recovery center in Columbus High School, as many of them had severe damage to their dwellings.
In Waupun, the storm pummeled the city with more than 14 inches of rain from June 8 to 12. The Rock River rose to a major flooding stage of a record 10 feet, beating the old record of more than seven feet in 1959.
Mayville saw serious flooding along the Rock River, which made travel difficult in many places.
Flooding to May Park, located next to Parkview Learning Center between Ruedebusch Avenue and Oak Street, caused it and the Mayville pool to close.
The flooding washed out a lot of sand from the spring-fed pool and there were concerns that the flooding contaminated the remaining water.
During the week of June 10, Absolute Home real estate broker Michael Firchow was having dinner at Dos Gringos, 210 S. Spring St. Beaver Dam, as the flood waters began to fill riverside businesses.
“I saw their waitress come up from the basement,” Firchow said. “She had a look on her face and they found out that they were taking in water … so I thought I better get things off the ground in my basement.”
Fox Lake worked to shore up the dam on Mill Creek on Thursday, June 12, eventually adding 30 loads of riprap. Water pooled between the dam and the culvert under Highway P/Trenton Street, and sandbags were used in an effort to protect the road.
During that time, Beaver Dam closed off downtown and evacuated citizens residing there due to the significant threat of the rushing floodwaters. Alliant Energy cut the power to minimize risk.
Beaver Dam made a public announcement asking for assistance with the sandbagging efforts on Haskell Street near the dam.
A command post was established at the Beaver Dam Fire Department where officials coordinated sandbagging on Haskell Street, Tower Parking Lot, Kraft Foods and the dam.
“Citizens of Beaver Dam’s support was tremendous,” Beaver Dam Fire Department Capt. Lee Smith said.
Smith said during this time it was decided to abandon the pumping efforts on Cooper Street and move the operation to the Tower Parking Lot.
“By Saturday [June 14] they were worried that the dam was going to give,” Craig Meier said. “They cut the power at about noon and didn’t warn anybody.”
At one of the bends in the river downtown, Meier’s business C.M. Benchworks, formerly at 137 Front St., Beaver Dam, took in about 18 inches of water.
“They really didn’t give anybody a warning and we knew the river was coming up,” Meier said.
As the river kept rising and flooding streets in Waupun, Fire Chief Jeff Berry had the Red Cross set up its headquarters and shelter at Waupun Area High School.
During the storms in Waupun, lightning struck a transmitter line. That caused a power outage to about 1,800 customers for 45 minutes, causing pumps to go out and resulting in even more damage.
As the rain continued, the rushing floodway in downtown Beaver Dam began to pose a serious threat.
According to Kennedy, some of the buildings at street level were built over the river or had concrete supports in the river. The rushing high water began to degrade the concrete and caused the buildings to shift.
“We were watching some of those structures start to shift and siding was falling off,” Amy Nehls said.
Nehls said there was a significant concern a building could fall into the river backing up the water causing massive flooding downtown, or washing parts of a fallen building down the river, causing additional property damage.
With some proper water management and thin hopes, Dodge County pressed on through the rains until the showers started to turn into drizzles around June 16. From there on the rain slowly subsided.
According to Dodge County Emergency Management estimates, about 101 homes in Dodge County had minor damage, with no major damages done to residential areas. In Columbus, about twice that number of homes had damage.
“The initial was pretty awful. I was out of work and business for a month or month-and-a-half,” Meier said.
Despite the damage, no one was harmed.
“Do you see any permanent damage? No. We got out and got sandbags and took care of the city,” Quarford said.
The after-effects of the “100-year” flood are present today by reshaping Beaver Dam’s downtown area for what Kennedy said did Beaver Dam more good than bad.
Also contributing to the story were Daily Citizen reporters Amanda Lutey, Paul Scharf, Megan Sheridan and Hank Snyder.