Special Report: New flood ground

Special Report: New flood ground

LEE CO., GA (WALB) - The Muckalee Creek is 72 miles of mostly winding stream, swampy from its beginning near Buena Vista until it reaches Lee County, where the banks widen, and the water flows more rapidly.

Muckalee means "Pour Upon Me", a suitable name for a creek that did indeed pour over its banks during Christmas, flooding yards and even a few homes where people didn't expect a 15 foot crest to be a problem.

Now, the Muckalee is getting the attention of national scientists, looking for an explanation of this new flood ground.

A rainy day on the Muckalee Creek doesn't distract from its beauty.

Muckalee resident, Bo Johnson, says he can't live without it. "It becomes a part of you," he said.

It's so much a part of him that high water hasn't changed his mind about living there, even when his family moved into the home in 1993, just before the historic 1994 flood.

Living through the 1994, 1998, and 2009 floods, plus frequent high water, hasn't changed his mind about living there.

"I wouldn't live anywhere else," he soundly said.

But the flooding has changed his thinking.

Johnson uses a pine tree as his gauge, and says the water height matches up within a few inches to an actual gauge upstream.

"I've watched it now since 1993 and I can tell you how that gauge on the 195 Bridge is going to translate to a crest here at my house," said Johnson.

At the Highway 195 Bridge, a team of Hydrological Technicians from Tifton spent a sunny day gathering data from the Muckalee.

Hydrologic Technician Greg Donley says they are measuring the stream-flow with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, or ADCP for short.

It's a small tri-hull yellow boat that costs roughly $50,000.

Every eight weeks, the boat is slowly pulled across the Muckalee Creek, counting particles in the water and gathering other precise data for the United States Geological Survey. The USGS. manages the gauges.

"Before we leave the site we will put our measurement in the server and it will be on our webpage," said Donley.
"The data from the gauge is typically considered to be 5 to 10 percent depending on the flow," added USGS Hydrologist Elliot Jones.
He says the data is important for the National Weather Service as they determine at what level a flood will crest, and when, although he admits it's not a perfect science.
Experts say changes along the Muckalee, like new roads, homes, and even docks and boathouses, impact where water goes when it overflows.

"We can live with 15 foot crests here but now that it is affecting people upstream [the National Weather Service] is going to have to make some adjustments to the flood warning levels, because now it is beginning to affect people in the growing county of Lee," said Johnson.
Lee County Planning Director Matt Inman says he and his fellow Lee County Emergency Management officials are grateful for what residents living on the water share with them.

"We have a number of residents that are very in tune with the rivers and have been through [floods and high water] many times, and give us great input [about] what they see on the creek," Inman said.
He and Lee EMA officials are taking information from the Christmas Day 2015 crest and sharing it with the National Weather Service to adjust the flood event stages to better match what people are experiencing when high water hits.

"These [adjusted] river levels will give us at least better indications and forecast models in the future of how these flooding events will happen," Inman said.
"[The National Weather Service] takes into consideration the population, the infrastructure built around the creek, and so over time these things will change up and down what they consider to be a flood level," said Hydrologist Elliot Jones.
And, when it comes to reporting water levels, accuracy is key for residents like Bo Johnson, who knows from experience it will flood again.

But, as a longtime Muckalee resident, Johnson says in the end it's up to the individual to know how the creek water where your home is located will flow when it reaches flood stage.

"It's hard to tell you just how powerful the water is when it comes through here. It is something you need to respect and understand."

A representative from the National Weather Service will be in Lee County at a town hall meeting, scheduled tentatively for February 23, to discuss new flood event stages along the Muckalee and get input from residents.

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