Watershed districts work to mitigate flooding

Staff writer

Charles Unruh, of rural Peabody, remembers a flood that struck the Doyle Creek watershed in 1965. After years of flooding, he and several other farmers decided they had seen enough.

“We had terrible flood damage, and we wanted to see what we could do,” Unruh said.

What they could do was create a watershed district. The Doyle Creek Watershed District covers 87,784 acres in Marion and Harvey counties. The district, like others in the county, works on flood damage and pollution prevention projects.

The district’s biggest projects are floodwater storage dams near the creek’s headwaters. Six dams have been constructed. Several more are proposed, but changes in state and federal regulations have effectively halted dam construction, board member Don Rosine said.

Although floodwaters spilled into downtown Peabody June 13, he said the dams prevented flooding like that of the 1960s.

“I thoroughly believe that, because I’ve seen lots of floods,” Rosine said.

Spring Creek, a tributary of Doyle Creek, is responsible for much of the flooding in Peabody because there are no retention dams along the creek, board member Lewis Unruh said.

Flood damage costs property owners in the district an average of $195,200 per year, according to the watershed district’s plan, written in 1975. The estimate hasn’t been updated since then, but Lewis Unruh said it would be much higher now. Damage to cropland constitutes 60 percent of flood damage. Fast-running water knocks over crops as they grow and carries away good topsoil, he said.

Water in Doyle Creek runs quickly because the upper portion of the watershed is steep, he said. The creek drops 200 feet in a 5-mile stretch, funneling water rapidly through the narrow stream channel. The creek falls 325 feet from its headwaters until it joins the Cottonwood River near Florence.

Farmers usually give the district easements to construct the dams, Lewis Unruh said. For most, the benefits of reduced flooding easily outweigh the cost of giving up some cropland or pasture.

Lewis Unruh was 10 years old when the 1965 flood struck. He was helping his father, Charles Unruh, with a lot of the farm work, and he remembers seeing fields covered in water.

During the June 13 flood, a watershed district dam protected the same fields. The only water running on the fields was the rain that fell on them, he said.

The dam on the Unruhs’ land created a pond that holds 163 acre-feet of water normally and up to 556 acre-feet during a flood. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre with a foot of water.

The pond provides habitat for fish and waterfowl, in addition to its flood mitigation effects. Catfish and bass make the pond good for fishing, and ducks and geese spend their winters at the pond, Lewis Unruh said.

Five other watershed districts include parts of Marion County. The southwest corner of the county is in the Sand Creek watershed. The Whitewater River watershed includes the south edge of the county. Turkey Creek watershed is north of Durham, and the Lyon Creek watershed is east of Turkey Creek watershed, stretching to Ramona and Lost Springs. Middle Creek watershed is east of Lincolnville, extending south to about 150th Road.

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