Dane County Executive Joe Parisi blamed the flooding around parts of rain-soaked Lake Kegonsa on climate change Thursday and then challenged state and national leaders to help the county and two towns impacted by it, instead of denying that climate change exists.
“We’re doing everything we can from the town level to the county level to address this challenge. There’s prevention and mitigation. But what we really need is for our state and federal partners to step up to the plate and get back from this politicization of science,” Parisi said. “The science tells us that the impacts of climate change are real. We’re experiencing those today.”
Climate change turned from a global topic to a local event earlier this week when some weather experts and research hydrologists said it was responsible for the spate of heavy rains that has caused Kegonsa’s water levels to rise steadily over the past six weeks.
As more rain fell Thursday, the water level reached a record 845.75 feet above sea level about 1 p.m., according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The old record was 845.73 set on June 16, 2008.
Several dozen homes have been affected by flooding, mostly in low-level areas on the northern side of the lake, according to town of Pleasant Springs board chairman David Pfeiffer.
Most of the problems are occurring with homes located near Lake Kegonsa State Park on Sunnyside Street amd Williams Drive. Many homes on the shoreline — mostly year-round residences — are threatened by the rising lake water that is covering most piers and lapping over rocks that protect the property. Even more homes located across the street are threatened by rising water from the Door Creek wetlands area north of the lake that has flooded most of their backyards.
The county has provided 8,400 sandbags to residents of the towns of Dunn and Pleasant Springs, Parisi. Sand also has been brought to the flooded areas by the towns.
While water has reached foundations of many homes, nobody had reported yet that their homes are flooded, Pfeiffer said. “Some of the houses are on slabs of cement. If they had basements, they’d be full of water, for sure.”
County workers have been working diligently to remove weeds and other obstacles to increase the flow of water out of Lake Kegonsa so it is higher than the flow of water into it, according to John Reimer, the assistant director of the county’s Land and Water Resources Department. The flow was ramped up from about 300 cubic feet a second to 800 cubic feet a second on Wednesday after three weed removers worked the Yahara River south of the lake and filled 21 dump trucks with weeds, he said.
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But while the flow of the river running downstream from lakes Mendota, Monona and Waubesa has been reduced as it enters Kegonsa, other tributaries like Door Creek are still draining into the lake.
Also, groundwater levels are so high that water is seeping into the lake from underground. So the overall flow of water into the lake still matches, or is slightly higher, than the flow out of it, according to Reimer.
The USGS is predicting that if Lake Kegonsa’s water level hasn’t already crested, it will soon crest and begin to decline. USGS forecast charts show the lake’s water levels steadily dropping over the next week.
The USGS also is forecasting water levels for Dane County’s four other major lakes — Mendota, Monona, Wingra and Waubesa — to rise or stay steady over the same time period. The charts show Waubesa cresting near a record high about a week from now.
Town of Dunn chairman Ed Minihan said a few homes located on the Lake Waubesa shoreline by Goodland Park are experiencing some problems with minor flooding.
Climate change experts are predicting that heavy rains that create flooding lakes are going to be the norm so preparations must begin immediately to deal with the next emergency at the lake. It’s an expensive proposition and the potential of moving or building up homes in the flood plain and improving roads will require help from the state and national levels, Parisi says.
But President Donald Trump has called climate change “a hoax” on numerous occasions. Also, state Department of Natural Resources administrators appointed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker caught some heat last year for leading efforts to delete language from the DNR website that described the urgency of addressing human activity that has accelerated climate change.
Also, some believe the state’s flood risk increased after recent legislation signed by Walker put serious limitations on how local governments regulate stormwater runoff. In Dane County, municipalities believe limiting runoff is key to preventing flooding in the county’s lakes.
“For the Legislature to pass a law saying that stormwater control should only be kept at a statewide uniform standard doesn’t make sense for property owners in my town who have property at risk of flooding,” Pfeiffer said. “We need to make sure that this issue is addressed so that in the future property owners don’t have to worry that their property is going to be flooded out worse and worse. Every decade, a big storm comes through.”