Special Report: Flood control - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Flood control

Recent Albany flooding (Source: WALB) Recent Albany flooding (Source: WALB)
AFD Chief Ron Rowe (Source: WALB) AFD Chief Ron Rowe (Source: WALB)
Veterans Park Amphitheater, Dec. 27, 2015 (Source: WALB) Veterans Park Amphitheater, Dec. 27, 2015 (Source: WALB)
Low lying areas near the river can flood quickly (Source: WALB) Low lying areas near the river can flood quickly (Source: WALB)

The hard learned lessons of recent floods in South Georgia have helped officials know more today about how to handle rising water, and minimize the damage.

Learning from history is vital to Albany and Dougherty County officials when it comes to flooding issues. In fact, it has become a science, because preventing more flooding in the future is crucial to Albany's economic development.

In 1994, a 500-year level flood caused historic damage to South Georgia along the Flint River. Some leaders think 21 years later, that flood still is a root-cause of much of the poverty and social issues in Albany.

Albany City Commissioner Tommie Postell said the fear of the impact of the water coming back is still in many people's minds.

In 1994 Albany EMA Director Ron Rowe helped pull people out of flooded homes, and knows why forecast flooding today still has the drastic impact on the community.

"It sounds almost like post traumatic stress disorder," said Rowe. "You live through that flood. Everything you had was washed away. You had to completely rebuild. And all of the sudden you turn right around and here comes the water again.  All those fears and anxieties come rushing back to you."

In 1994 emergency officials did not have a lot of experience how past floods had impacted areas of Albany.  But city officials made sure tough lessons from experience would not be forgotten again.

"We learned things in 1994 that were able to apply in 1998. And of course in this most recent 31 foot river we had some lessons learned that we were able to apply to that particular flood as well," said Albany Assistant City Manager Phil Roberson.

In each flood event, Albany and Dougherty County officials and Emergency Responders record when and where the water rises.

"We do a reassessment after every flood and try to determine how did we approach it," explained Albany City Engineer Bruce Maples. Did we do it the best we could, and what can we do better in the future?"

That led to what's called an Inundation Map from the United States Geological Survey, showing what a forecast height on the river and the creeks in the past means for homeowners today. A major example was the 32 feet predicted over the Christmas Holidays.

That knowledge led to several improvements, like the Broad Avenue Bridge to keep the river from cutting the city in half. And flood mitigation structures like the gates on the Liberty Bypass at the 20 acre pond to keep the creeks from flooding the roadway.

And in South Albany, the pumping stations to push rainwater out of city streets when the river gates are closed, to better control flooding. Officials say this equipment and lessons helped in the Christmas flooding.

"It's definitely a science," said Rowe. You can't predict what Mother Nature will do. You can only guess what Mother Nature is going to do to you.  And so you put the best educated plans in place."

And now the records and metrics from December's flood event have been added, so that the science of flood control in Albany will be passed on to future generations, to help them know how to minimize damage when the Flint's waters rise again.

As the Emergency officials know, flood control can only do so much. A 44 foot Flint River level would overwhelm South Georgia again.

But today officials say better forecasts and experience will hopefully give earlier warnings and save lives.

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