Fort Wayne is known for its three rivers. A city built around three rivers will always have the potential of flooding.
As we start wrapping up what could end up being the snowiest winter on record, surpassing the record set in 1982, many have expressed concerns there could be significant flooding this week with a warm up and rain. Some even fear flooding could be as bad as the great flood of 1982.
“It’s far worse than people can imagine,” a man said to NewsChannel 15 in a 1982 interview. “Cars are covered, houses are half full, you can see ice flows going in and out of the doorways, and people trying to get some things out in boats.”
The great flood of 1982 brought the worst upon our city, but brought out the best in our people. Even President Ronald Reagan came to Fort Wayne to see the devastating flood.
“Fort Wayne made quite an impression on me,” Reagan said. “I want you to know that those young people, those volunteers out on the dike, if that wouldn’t make any American confident in the future of our country.”
A lot of winter records have been broken during the 2013-2014 season, many of which were set in 1982. This is what leads many to question whether or not significant flooding is currently approaching Fort Wayne, but Fort Wayne engineer Shan Gunawardena said, “we’re much better off than 1982.”
More than $75 million has gone into flood management since 1982.
Levees, flood walls, flood plains, and home buyouts have allowed the city to better handle floods without nearly as much consequence.
“Since 1982, we’ve build approximately 10.5 miles of levees and flood walls,” Gunawardena said “We’ve also protected areas like the Woodhurst area and Winchester area. So, we’ve protected a lot more areas than were protected in 1982.”
These efforts have been ongoing over the last 32 years.
In 1994, the Fort Wayne/Allen County Flood Control project sought out to remove as much as 70 percent of Fort Wayne property in flood prone areas. This, along with other flood management tactics, has proven helpful so far.
“Those improvements are pretty dramatic,” city spokesperson Frank Suarez said. “We’ve made purchases of over 300 homes in areas, we have green space that will hold more water, we have improvements to our storm drainage and storm pipes throughout the community, we have flood walls since the 1982 flood, levees, and many many changes that are able to help us handle situations like this. But we always watch things and we always monitor things.”
As the snow melts this week and the rain arrives, our rivers will be watched closely. Check out these graphics that breakdown some numbers on Fort Wayne’s rivers.
The St. Joe River is currently at 3.5 feet.
Since 1913 the highest recorded crest of the St. Joe was in 2009 at 20.38 feet, more than 8 feet above flood stage.
The St. Mary’s River is currently at 2.5 feet.
There have been two records crests since 1982. In 2003 and 2005 St. Mary’s was at more than 5 feet above flood stage.
Fort Wayne has seen several historical crests of two rivers in the last decade with minimal effect.
“That’s an indication of how our work has helped us be able to prevent more damage from a flood event,” Gunawardena said
However, the Maumee River has yet to crest near major flood stage since 1985. That means some flood management projects have yet to be put to the big test.
While flood management has come a very long way since 1982, preventing floods in a city built around rivers is impossible.
Flood prone areas should stay extra aware in the coming weeks.