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Commentary: There's no silver bullet for Zumbro Watershed

Aug. 22 provided the first look at the Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering flood mitigation model, hosted by Zumbro & Friends, a local non-profit focused on minimizing the impact of future flooding.

What did we learn?

First, that this is the beginning of a long process; seeds are being planted that will likely not bear fruit for 20 to 30 years.

Second, there is no silver bullet; the model is not expected to produce one solution that will “fix” the flooding problems that continue to affect the river and those who live near it.

Steve Druschel, associate professor of engineering and his students have worked hard for nearly two years on creating the model that is allowing us to test various possible options for flood mitigation. At the Aug. 22 initial roll out of the model, Druschel shared four possible options, outlining pros and cons for each:

1. Do nothing. This would cost nothing and leave the towns as river towns. But doing nothing leaves the towns susceptible to future floods, may lower property values and brings “uncertainty, dread and stigma.”

2. Relocate flood-prone homes and businesses. This would be costly for the owners and could damage or destroy the towns.

3. Slow the flow of the river with impoundment of water during large rain events. It would moderate flood peaks and preserve towns’ river heritages. It would be costly.

4. Put up flood walls. This “would totally change the character of the towns” and they would lose their connection to the river.

A fifth option that has been discussed and incorporated into the presentation of the model includes adopting many small, local solutions that, added together, could become “the” solution for the Zumbro River.

These could include vegetative buffer strips, rain gardens, bioretention basins, equalization basins, in-channel retention and high-rate infiltration/runoff reduction, all focused on tributaries and upper watershed flowages to shave main stem flows. Most of these options are inexpensive and possibly less controversial than some of the options.

So, what’s our next step?

Continue to present to the public the work done so far, then ask for input and suggestions from as many stakeholders as we can possibly reach.

All suggestions and comments are welcome, whether you support what we are working to accomplish or not; the more input we receive, the better off we all are.

Great ideas often come from the most unexpected places and we look forward to uncovering those gems. We ask everyone with an interest in the Zumbro River and the area surrounding it to attend one of our town hall meetings: first to listen, then to share.

Our schedule is:

Sept. 17, Mazeppa Community Room.

Sept. 19. Mantorville Senior Citizen’s Center.

Sept. 24 Wanamingo Community Room.

Sept. 26, Oronoco Community Center.

All meetings begin promptly at 6:30 p.m. and will end by 8:30. Please join us.

Janice Domke of Hammond, Minn., is a Zumbro & Friends board member.