Flood waters are receding

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After mounds of snow and nearly seven inches of rain, the Switzerland County community continues to dry out from last week’s severe weather that left creeks and streams overflowing their banks – and the Ohio River rising into yards and parks.

But it wasn’t as bad as was predicted.

Christy Kleopfer, project navigation assistant at the Markland Locks and Dam, said that the highest recorded level at the dam was last Thursday, March 20th, when the lower side of the dam – the Indiana side – reached a level of 49.2.

“Flood stage on the lower side is 51-feet, so we never got to what we would consider to be flood stage,” Christy Kleopfer said.

Normal water level on the lower side is 12-feet; so although official flood stage was not reached at the Markland Dam, the water was still high.

Heavy rains knocked out a portion of Bennington Pike, but Switzerland County Highway superintendent Edd Cook said that other than that there were no real problems with county roads.

“We came out pretty lucky except for Bennington Pike,” Edd Cook said. “That’s an ongoing issue, but we’re working on it. Other than that, we didn’t have to close any roads except those roads with river back water where the river covers parts of them all the time, anyway.”

As of Wednesday morning, Markland was showing a river level of 39.0-feet, and Christy Kleopfer said that the water level was continuing to drop. She said that the Meldahl Locks, which are just above Cincinnati, has begun cutting off a lot of the water that would otherwise make it to Markland, and that’s making water levels here fall more quickly.

“It didn’t go down as fast as it came up, but our levels are falling faster now,” Christy Kleopfer said.

Officials at the Markland Dam and Locks take rain measurements at 6 a.m. each morning; and Christy Kleopfer said that Markland recorded one inch of rainfall on Wednesday, March 19th; 2.73 inches on Thursday, March 20th; and 1.58 inches of rainfall on Friday, March 21st.

One of the misconceptions about the Markland Dam and Locks is that it is a flood control dam – it isn’t.

Markland is a navigational lock and dam system, and although it can help with flooding, it’s primary purpose is commerce.

“We’re basically here to keep a constant river level,” Christy Kleopfer said. “If we weren’t here, there would be dry spots in the river. We’re here to keep a constant flow for the towboats.”

Because of the need to keep a more balanced river level, when heavy rain hits the area or areas above the dam, gates are adjusted to balance the river.

“We went ‘all out’ – which is when we take the games completely out of the water so we have no control over the water level – at 10:10 a.m. on March 19th,” Christy Kleopfer said. “At that point the water was flowing through the dam freely.”

As Switzerland County residents watch the water levels fall back to normal, the National Weather Service is forecasting more rain coming into the county in the coming days.

Rain is expected to begin tonight (Thursday), and continue through tomorrow. After a dry Saturday, rain is expected to continue daily through next Thursday.

“We’re anticipating the river coming back up,” highway superintendent Edd Cook said. “We’ll be watching it.”