Village public works director Jeff Rau hears complaints about Oregon’s worsening water issue almost daily.
He’s heard stories about homes and businesses getting flooded, resulting in months of repairs, high costs and sometimes relocation, and he points out that some lower income families might not even be able to pay for the repairs.
Even those who aren’t suffering the worst effects of excess precipitation and flooding are dealing with inconveniences.
Streets such as Netherwood Road have been closed, restricting the routes residents take to get to work, school and home. And the trails once used for biking and other recreational activities are now barren.
“The majority of complaints we receive are dealing with constantly running sump pumps and then dealing with the water after it passed through the pump,” Rau said. “Some people’s gutters are continuously flowing with water.
“And as we head into winter, residents need to figure out alternate locations to discharge (the water),” Rau added.
With residents feeling like their local government isn’t doing enough to solve their problems, Rau said, he has organized a public water forum to discuss the issue in detail.
The forum is set for 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at Village Hall, 117 Spring St., and will feature a panel of experts who can discuss the causes and effects of the excess precipitation and flooding from a meteorological, hydrological and governmental perspective.
Rau brought up the idea after the most recent flooding endeavor in the village – the closure of Netherwood Road, which was plagued by flooding earlier this month. The village pumped water over the road overnight and during the middle of the day for several days.
He said some people who have reached out to him have felt the village isn’t considering their pleas for help or doing enough to reach a solution. But any action the municipality could take will take not only a large amount of money but also a lot of time.
And, Rau said, the village has been listening.
“We want to relay to people that this is indeed happening and that this is happening regionally,” he said.
Rau also said one reason the flooding has continued to worsen is where Oregon is located, built on a reservoir.
Those are some of the topics he expects the experts will discuss at the forum.
“We have to deal with the facts,” Rau said.
A continuous cycle
Sitting at his desk, Rau drew a picture of how groundwater is affected by precipitation.
Rain flows over the ground as surface runoff, with a portion of it entering bodies of water like Lake Barney, a glacial kettle just north of the Town of Oregon and City of Fitchburg boundary, and Badfish Creek. More of the runoff seeps into the ground as infiltration into the water table, with some of it drawn deep into the Earth and some staying close to the surface.
When there’s more water than there is room for it in the water table, it finds openings in the land surface where springs emerge.
This is what’s happened in Oregon in recent years, Rau said.
And since Oregon was originally developed on low land, increased precipitation has placed pressure on the water table, causing it to rise and drive complaints from residents.
Rau pointed to data from the Wisconsin State Climatology Office (WSCO), which keeps tabs on things like rainfall amounts, temperature changes and snowfall.
Precipitation levels in Dane County are on track to being the highest on record in 2019, he said.
A WSCO study depicts how cumulative rain levels have increased up to just over 40 inches within the last year. From 1981-2010, there is a “statistically significant” uptick in precipitation, which Rau said suggests that Wisconsin has become a wetter climate.
A 2018 study shows a similar trend – it was a record year for rainfall and groundwater levels in Dane County. Last year, rainfall got up to just above 50 inches.
Regardless of opinions on the causes of climate change, Rau said, data clearly show a trend that needs attention from local governments and the public.
For now, that attention comes in the form of immediate solutions.
When Netherwood Road flooded again this year, public works pumped water to the north for days on end.
West Netherwood Road, between Cusick and Alpine Parkways, was closed during evening and overnight hours throughout the first week of October and continued into a second week to allow water from the north to be pumped over the road into the Keller Alpine Park area.
That, however, was only the final straw. Lake Barney had already expanded to 800 acres from a previous size of 30 acres starting last October and continuing throughout this past spring and summer seasons.
That caused flooding in people’s homes and submerged the Rotary Bike Trail, which still faces overflow even after recent improvements.
Jefferson Street residents saw similar conditions – all from the rising water table.
While the forum will focus on long term solutions for Netherwood Road — one project of many upcoming ones for the village, Rau said – it will focus on solutions in general.
“We want to build public trust,” he said. “We hope people come out of (the forum) with a greater trust in the village board and the direction staff is (going) to make improvements.”