Editorial: ‘Hoover Dam’ gets proof
Op-Ed · April 26, 2013

It is hard to believe that the grade stabilization structure, also known as a stormwater retention basin, also now referred to as the “Hoover Dam” was just finished in December, put on display in January, and put to the test in April.

It’s been 20 years since this city has seen such a downpour as we did April 17-18. The five- to six-inch rainfall in less than 24 hours brought back memories — and volume — that could have again reached into the ground floor of some of our downtown businesses.

The issue of water running downhill may seem less interesting than some hot-button topics out there, but when that water then backs up the sewer system and starts soaking the carpeting, buckling the wood, ruining personal property and damaging property, it suddenly seems serious enough that people start taking days off work and businesses shut down.

Thankfully, local farmers Curt Friis and John Black saw the value of giving up some of the acreage in their shared farmland -- not to themselves, but to the city at the bottom of the sloping hills north and west of it.

The Hoover Dam was built to hold up to 14.5 million gallons of water, enough to fill 600 train tanker cars. Best estimates is that the rain filled up the basin within 8 feet of its top before slowly releasing the water down its funneling drain.

City Administrator Matt Muckler in January quipped that West Branch could use five or six more of those dams. For certain, the Friis-Black dam made a significant difference, but we still had three roads in the downtown and the Visitor Center parking lot blocked off due to overflowing streets.

The Village Green, Fox Run Golf Course, West Branch Village and several other pockets of town had large sections covered in water. The West Branch Fire/Police Department was inaccessible on Second Street. The Wapsinonac swelled to the point that it touched the bottom of bridges at Main Street near Fiesta Riviera and College Street at the head of the Hoover Nature Trail.

In addition, the city needs to continue its work to repair or replace old sanitary sewer lines that are cracked and letting in rain water in the soaked ground. Muckler said the city hopes to find one or two large problem areas that, when fixed, will quickly result in significantly less leakage. But he also acknowledges that finding such a “home run” seems less and less likely. What appears to be the case is that the city’s sewer system is simply old and cracked throughout, meaning stopping the leaks will require a slow and steady and costly process.

So, yes, more needs to be done.

However, the work that has been done so far, especially the Hoover Dam, is showing us that it is making a difference.

This rainfall should only remind us to press on with the city’s work, and also to try harder to find other farmers willing to contribute portions of their land to the greater good.

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