Heavy rains Wednesday and Thursday bring back all too memorable results

The thunderstorms that blasted the area Wednesday and Thursday, June 18 and 19 brought more than just heavy rains with them, as lightning and high winds also caused trouble for area residents, as evident above. The home pictured above at 709 Second Avenue SW in Waukon was reportedly struck by lightning during the Thursday morning storm that passed through the area, resulting in a small fire within the roof area of the structure. The Waukon Fire Department responded to the blaze, having to resort to cutting a hole in the home's roof in order to reach the flames burning inside. There was nobody home at the time of the incident and the flames were extinguished rather quickly, resulting in overall minor damage to the home. Standard photo by Bob Beach.

It was nearly a case of very unfortunate deja vu this past week for Waukon and the surrounding Allamakee County area, as heavy rains Wednesday and Thursday, June 18 and 19 brought some of the same results as almost exactly one year ago - although not to the same overall degree.
National Weather Service data reported rain totals of between eight and nine inches in the few days prior to and including a Thursday, June 19 storm that topped off that total with a frequency of one to one-and-a-half inches of rain per hour during a two-hour period in the early afternoon hours. It was that same type of rain total frequency, both overall and per hour, that brought flash flooding destruction to the downtown Waukon community and the greater Allamakee County area during the June 22-23, 2013 time period.
Although the property damage and destruction did not reach overall levels experienced a year ago, some very troublesome similarities did result between the two storm periods. Among those similarities are the evacuation and closing of campground areas within Yellow River State Forest through Monday, June 23 due to the flooding of its namesake, and the closing of all horse trails within the facility through this Thursday, June 26.
The closing of nearly a dozen area roadways by flooding, mostly gravel roads in southeastern Allamakee County, also echoed similarities from last year to this year, although, again, not to the same degree as in 2013. Those road closures have been considerably more temporary this year, with that list dwindling to just four roadways by press time Tuesday, June 24, including Donahue Road from State Forest Rd to County Road X52 and the Cottage Road dead end from County Road X52 in the Yellow River Forest area; Imperial Avenue from Jefferson Davis Drive to the Clayton County border in southeast Allamakee County; and the Army Drive dead end from Fourth Street in New Albin.
Within the Waukon community itself, the wall of flash flooding that devastated numerous area businesses in 2013 was replaced this year by basement flooding in several downtown businesses, some businesses reporting five to six feet of water in their basements following Thursday's final dousing. Additionally, numerous Waukon homes experienced basement flooding once again this year, many of them experiencing new flooding by water infiltration through basement walls and floors, but a large handful of them in lower lying areas once again having sanitary sewer back-up for the second consecutive year.
With the National Weather Service reporting a monthly average of between five and six inches of rain historically for the month of June in Iowa, the storms that have dumped even more than that monthly average on the area in less than a 24-hour time period during mid to late June in each of the past two years has certainly been pinpointed as the culprit, leaving in its wake a number of questions on how to address the problem, in addition to the destruction. City of Waukon Water Superintendent Robert Campbell reports that the treatment plant in southwest Waukon typically handles between 700,000 and 800,000 gallons of water in a day but forced through over three million gallons during this past stormy Thursday.
Infiltration of storm water into the City's sanitary sewer system by incidental means has been labeled as one cause for the "overloads" that have plagued the Waukon sanitary sewer system each of the last two Junes. Aging sewer pipes and joints can allow groundwater to seep in, especially in ground already heavily saturated by rain.
In addition to that incidental infiltration, Campbell says there are likely a number of homes and businesses who either pump or dump any water that seeps in through their basement walls or floors directly into the City's sanitary sewer system, compounding the flow even further. His department has been trying to conduct property inspections on a voluntary basis to correct those draining methods that violate City code and would appreciate the cooperation of property owners in that quest.
Meanwhile, area residents are left to wonder if such torrential rainfalls labeled by the National Weather Service as being of a "500-year frequency" are becoming more the norm than the exception, and wondering even further how to deal with them when they do occur.