(La Porte County, IN) - The heavy precipitation recently has filled drainage ditches and created standing water on farm land in spots but there doesn’t appear to be much concern at least for now.
Farmer Matt Shafer of LaCrosse said there would be a lot more water in the rivers and fields if there if there was the usual late winter heavy frost in the ground.
He said lack of frost due to unseasonably mild temperatures is allowing the ground to absorb some of the water and reduce the amount running off into the ditches and waterways.
Except for a few inches of heavy wet snow on Friday, he also pointed out there has been no sudden melting of a heavy snow pack adding to the surface water.
“We were a little more able to process this if you will,” Shafer said.
It was this time of year in 2018 when farmers in this part of the state experienced record flooding from a major snow melt and torrential rains while frost was still in the ground.
Some acreage beside the Kankakee River then was covered by more than 10 feet of water.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Kankakee River at Shelby in Lake County has been rising but levels on Tuesday were just slightly above minor flood stage and two feet below major flood stage. Water levels on the Kankakee River were about a foot below minor flood stage on March 2.
In comparison, the Yellow River has also been rising but receding in spots. Levels on Tuesday at Plymouth were about three feet below minor flood stage and five feet below major flood stage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Yellow River is about a foot lower than it was on March 2.
Shafer reported similar results in his neck of the woods near the Kankakee River, saying there’s more water in the ditches and fields since the last period of heavy rain, but nothing close from the amount in 2018.
“I’m starting to see water the fields I didn’t see a week ago,” he said.
Currently, Shafer said the standing water is not a problem for farmers except for a handful of producers who started applying fertilizer and weed control chemicals to their soil in advance of spring planting.
Shafer said he typically doesn’t start planting his corn and soybeans until about the middle of April. For right now, his only concern is having to push back spring planting if the heavy precipitation continues over the next several weeks.
“We’re good on moisture for right now. We don’t need any more for the moment,” he said.
A number of preventative steps costing about $2 million have been taken in recent years to help keep the Kankakee River and Yellow River from spilling over their banks as quickly.
Scott Pelath, Executive Director of the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, said log jams are now cleared before a flood to keep the water moving instead of pooling up.
He said trees about to fall into the rivers are taken out before they drop into the water and create a log jam. Any debris caught on the structures of bridges spanning the rivers are removed so blockages don’t become larger from snagging other materials floating by in the water.
Pelath also said not only are reports of blockages from citizens responded to in advance but the rivers are actively monitored year round to spot and remove any impediments to flows.
Other recent measures include development of a 400 acre flood water storage area in Newton County. Recently, some of the water from the Kankakee River spilled into what he described as sort of a wetland once reaching minor flood stage.
“That’s something you can do to maybe take a couple of inches off the flood height,” he said.
He said the rivers being low entering the spring thaw season provided additional help to keep the waterways, so far, mostly within their banks.
Pelath would not estimate how much higher the rivers would be without the flood control steps already taken but felt there’s been a positive impact.
“You can’t prevent a flood. If Mother Nature is going to bring you a lot of precipitation that’s what Mother Nature is going to do, but you can do things and take steps that would make a flood much less worse than it otherwise would have been,” he said.
Long term, Pelath said other flood control measures include rebuilding of banks to reduce sediment build-up in the rivers from erosion.