Public attends water forum with panel

A panel of experts including public works director Jeff Rau, WKOW Meteorologist Bob Lindmeier, Dane County Land and Water Resources division manager Jeremy Balousek and city of Fitchburg public works director Mike Bisbach discussed solutions to flooding problems that have increasingly plagued the community.

More than 80 people attended the village’s public water forum Monday, Nov. 11, to learn about the prevalence of flooding issues and increased rainfall – and possible solutions to those problems.

After presentations from four experts, visitors asked questions and offered suggestions.

One of those suggestions was for the village to set up its own stormwater utility, which would allow it to sidestep levy limits to make infrastructure improvements. Another was stopping development on low-lying land and only on higher ground where groundwater can’t reach – something village public works director Rau said the village has already done.

Dane County Land and Water Resources division manager Jeremy Balousek addressed another suggestion, establishing a deep lake to store all the extra water runoff. Balousek said the county has already achieved that with stormwater ponds.

Each member on the panel emphasized that all solutions would take time, effort, research and funds and that local government leaders are listening.

WKOW-TV meteorologist Bob Lindmeier acknowledged that while there are things individual municipalities can do to alleviate increased precipitation and flooding, the overarching reason for both is climate change.

In his presentation, he said 97% of global scientists agree that climate change is real. He said it’s a worldwide problem that will require a global shift to renewable energies and away from the burning of fossil fuels, putting a price on carbon, developing mitigation agreements, more research strategies and a collective shift in the consciousness of how people view their planet.

“It’s us,” Lindmeier said to forum attendees. “It’s real. It’s dangerous. Scientists agree. And we’ve got solutions that are technically feasible and economically affordable.”

Locally, he said, research has shown the area has grown 3 degrees warmer since 1970, which in a climate setting leads to more extreme weather, such as increased precipitation, drought, heat and cold waves.

In the meantime, Rau said, the inability to return water levels to what they were even just a few years ago means “achieving a new normal” in Oregon.

He said the Village Board’s budget, set for approval this month, will “solidify” funding for next year and the engineering that will take place to make improvements.

The first will be to the Netherwood Road and Cusick Parkway areas, which experienced much flooding in October resulting in road closures. Afterward, Rau added, the goal is to engineer solutions for more problem areas for bidding and construction in 2020, he said.

“Beyond Netherwood Road areas, we will continue to evaluate other areas which need to be addressed,” Rau told the Observer in a Tuesday, Nov. 12, email. “These areas could include the old Florida Avenue area, the drainage areas behind Kennedy Drive or problems on Park Street east of the library.”

He said the village will likely draft and pass a sump pump ordinance to allow “better definition or property rights and discharge locations.”

“This has been on our radar these past years and from our meeting … it should be a priority for us going forward,” he said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.