Floodwaters flow over Highway 18

Highway 18 one mile west of Rock Valley sits under 3-4 inches of water on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 20. The deepest the floodwater got over the road was 6-8 inches at 6:30 a.m.

ROCK VALLEY—The city of Rock Valley is not going to treat floods as simply water under the bridge.

The Rock Valley City Council have directed engineers to collect data and develop some preliminary plans for a permanent flood wall.

City administrator Tom Van Maanen said a flood wall could be permanent solution to the extensive flooding the town has experienced over the last four years.

He said city officials found that the permanent berms already put in place provided a faster response to the June flooding.

“We still had to rely on a ton of volunteers with shovels, payloaders to build temporary measures,” Van Maanen said. “In both 2014 and 2018, a lot of volunteers showed, which is great, but that much activity with volunteers and heavy equipment has a potential for something tragic. That is concerning.”

Trying to find a more permanent solution rather than mobilizing an assortment of volunteers is something the city officials are interested in. Van Maanen said permanent flood walls would allow the city to use flood volunteers in a more coordinated effort and provide a safer setting.

‘Help the homes’

Rock Valley not only experienced flooding in June of 2014 and 2018, but also on Thursday, Sept. 20, when heavy rains caused the Rock River to overflow. The flooding was not as severe as the previous two, as the water of the Rock River reached a crest of 18 feet on Friday afternoon. Van Maanen said back in 2014, a 20-foot water crest was considered severe.

“Now, 20 feet is no issue,” he said. “At 22 feet, that is when a lot of property damage occurs.”

The flood walls under consideration are either dirt or concrete. Van Maanen said dirt walls would definitely be the cheaper of the two.

“In the long term, I would have the money invested to help the homes in the floodplain,” he said.

Ideally, Van Maanen would like to see a combination of dirt and concrete walls. The areas of town that are elevated higher might only need a 2-foot-high dirt wall. Other spots might need 5 or 6 feet. The taller portions are definitely what Van Maanen would like to see made out of concrete.

Research into the flood wall began in July, not long after the disastrous June water levels.

Building a wall is not as simple as it may sound. A lot of time and many aspects need to be included in the final plan. How the structure might affect the Rock River — and thus other towns located along the waterway — needs to be considered.

“Every action is a reaction,” Van Maanen said. “We can’t do something that will cause problems for someone else.”

Something else that must be considered is how a wall would affect the town within its borders. He said the wall would be constructed to keep water out, but it will not change the fact that water tables rise and basements will flood. That water then will have to be moved from the inside to the outside.

“It does no good to have a great wall, but then there’s a heavy rain and you can’t get the water out of your basement,” he said.

‘Have intentions’

The city administrator is hoping some ideas, and their financial burdens, will be presented to the Rock Valley City Council in December or early January.

“Then, we will look at picking a design for the flood wall and apply for grants,” he said. “We definitely have intentions to start construction in 2019.”

In April, Van Maanen met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the possible construction of a permanent berm, which would have been 3-4 feet high and 20 feet wide at the top. The city was hoping to obtain enough federal funding to build berms on the north side of town near North Main Street and 10th Avenue on the east. However, Van Maanen was informed that no such federal funding exists and even if it did, Rock Valley might not qualify for it.

“They said it would go to needier towns,” he said. “We’ve had two major flood in four years. I think we should go back to them and ask them to readjust their score.”

If the city cannot get grants, or the amount given is not significant, Van Maanen said they might have to break the project up into pieces. First constructing at the more vulnerable areas and do another area every year.

“Every phase would move us closer to where we want to get,” he said. “In three to four years, we are going to have a lot of areas protected.”