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Historic rainfall puts communities underwater

posted: August 27. 2018 09:52a CST
by / Brooke Bechen, Regional Editor |

BLACK EARTH — Driving north on Highway 78 through Black Earth Aug. 21, hoses could be seen snaking their way to streets littered with debris as homeowners and business owners alike began the painstaking process of emptying excess water from their basements and first floors.

A bridge crossing Black Earth Creek on Highway 14 remains in ruins for the foreseeable future as it’s completely washed out — a large gap in the road and a quick-moving current below visible to those who approached on foot to get a glimpse.

At The Shoebox, a long-standing shoe store located near the intersection of Highways 78 and 14, employees and volunteers lined up hundreds of shoes on tables outside of the store — many pairs of which had taken a swim when heavy rain Monday night, Aug. 20, triggered flooding in Black Earth and the surrounding communities of Cross Plains, Mazomanie and Middleton.

Although it may take a while for an official confirmation from the U.S. National Weather Service, the station in Milwaukee/​Sullivan reported that areas west of Madison received 11 to 15 inches of rain that Monday night into Tuesday morning — an historic amount that could break a previous state record of 11.72 inches for a 24-hour rainfall event set back in 1946 in northern Wisconsin.

“I’ve never seen flooding quite like this,” said Claire Hottmann, who resides on Sunny Creek Farm on Highway 14 between Mazomanie and Arena. “Our pasture has flooded severely in the past but nothing like this ever before.

“It’s the worst we’ve ever seen it.”

Hottmann was at the farm Monday night when it first started raining; she knew it was coming down hard but didn’t realize the extent until the next morning. Upon waking, she saw the pasture behind her home completely flooded from water ascending from the banks of Black Earth Creek. Water rushing into the flooded pasture had prompted Highway 14 to close for the day. An Iowa County sheriff’s deputy was set up near the barricade to help drivers find alternate routes to where they needed to go.

Fortunately, the Hottmanns haven’t had cattle in their pasture for two years now; the cropland on the farm is also rented out. But her son-in-law has reported that the irrigation pump is underwater, and they hope insurance will cover the cost to replace the rather expensive piece of equipment.

Jonathan Ripp, who lives on County Road KP between Black Earth and Mazomanie, said the last time his property flooded was about 10 years ago, although it had never been this bad before. He had 4 feet of water going through his shop and had been working all day to save and salvage what equipment he could.

He awoke at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday to see water standing halfway up the door to get into a barn on his property. His father, who grew up there and now operates a neighboring farm, had raised hogs in this barn when he was younger.

“He was kind of impressed,” Ripp said. “If there had been hogs in there now, they would have all been dead.”

Water from Black Earth Creek swelled onto their land, approaching the yard near their home. Ripp said the water will likely recede within the next few days, and he considers himself and his family lucky as they have pumps in the basement and don’t have cattle to tend to, as some of their neighbors do.

“We know people that were evacuated from their home by boat Monday night,” he said. “We got lucky.”

Dane County UW-Extension has fielded a few calls from concerned farmers in the areas of Pine Bluff, Mazomanie, Cross Plains and Black Earth, said Heidi Johnson, crops and soils agent. Farmers she has talked to have concerns about three contributing factors: spoiled feed, floodwaters keeping them out of their fields and muddy soybeans.

She reported that some farmers are experiencing soybean crops covered in mud, left behind when floodwaters rushed through their fields Monday night. More rain could wash the mud away, she said, but there could still be challenges ahead when combining.

With water now moving through many fields, there also is some concern for those downstream.

Gov. Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency in Dane County following the heavy rains and flooding; he toured flood damaged areas Aug. 23 and encouraged residents who suffered damage to document it and reach out to their insurance companies. Dane County also has asked residents to call 211 to report damage.

Photo by Brooke Bechen - A fenced-in area on a farm on the outskirts of Black Earth was filled with water. A strong current was pulling the floodwaters into the nearby Black Earth Creek.
Photo by Brooke Bechen - A field on the property of Jonathan Ripp, who resides between Mazomanie and Black Earth, was left flooded as a result of the Aug. 20 rains in southwest Wisconsin.
Photo by Brooke Bechen - A tractor sat idle in a muddy field after Aug. 20’s historic rain and flooding, impacting the communities of Cross Plains, Mazomanie, Black Earth and Middleton.
Photo by Brooke Bechen - A tractor sat in a muddy and partially flooded field between Black Earth and Mazomanie Aug. 21 after a potentially record-breaking amount of rain fell in the area Monday night into Tuesday morning.
Photo by Brooke Bechen - The banks of Black Earth Creek overflowed with water, causing evacuations in many communities along it. Pictured here is a pasture on Highway 14 owned by the Hottmanns of Sunny Creek Farm.
Photo by Brooke Bechen - A pasture at Sunny Creek Farm, located between Mazomanie and Arena, sat flooded. Owner Claire Hottmann said she’s never seen anything like it in her 58 years on the farm.
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