Flooding in our county is caused by three major sources. The Cedar River,
the Little Cedar River and the Upper Iowa River leave their banks during
heavy storms, snow melt or ice jams. In addition, flooding can and does
occur on the smaller streams of the county. Flooding can come with little
warning. Even though they appear to move slowly (three feet per second), a
flood two feed deep can knock a man off his feet and float a car.
Even though your property was high enough not to be flooded this year, it can still be flooded in the future because the next flood could be worse. If you are in the floodplain, the odds are that someday your property will be damaged. This article gives you some ideas of what you can do to protect yourself.
County Flood Services
The first thing you should do is check your flood hazard. Flood maps and flood protection references are available at the Austin Public Library. More information, such as depth of flooding over a building’s first floor and past flood problems in the area is available from the County Offices. They also have a handout on selecting an architect, engineer or contractor to do flood proofing.
The Mower County Departments will visit a property to review its flood problem and explain possible ways to stop flooding or prevent flood damage. This is a free service. This is a great source of help if you have experienced flood, drainage or sewer backup problems.
What Can You Do
Do not dump or throw anything into ditches or streams. Dumping in our ditches and streams is a violation of the mower County Flood-Plain Management Ordinance. Even grass clippings and branches can accumulate and plug channels. A plugged channel cannot carry water, and when it rains the water has to go somewhere. Every piece of trash contributes to flooding.
If your property is next to a ditch or stream, please do your part and keep the banks clear of brush and debris. If you see dumping or debris in the ditches or streams, contact the Mower County Public Works at 507-437-7718.
Always check with the Planning Department before you build on, alter, re-grade, or fill on your property. A permit may be needed to ensure that projects do not cause problems on other properties. If any nonconforming use or structure is destroyed by any means, including floods, to an extent of 50% or more of its market value at the time of destruction, it shall not be reconstructed except in conformity with the provisions of Mower County Zoning Ordinance 14-135(5).
Check out information on flood proofing, flood insurance and flood safety, as it appears later in this article.
If you don’t have flood insurance, talk to your insurance agent. Homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover damage from floods. However, because Mower County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you can purchase a separate flood insurance policy. This insurance is backed by the Federal government and is available to everyone, even for properties that have been flooded.
Some people have purchased flood insurance because it was required by the bank when they got a mortgage or home improvement loan. Usually these policies just cover the building’s structure and not the contents. During the kind of flooding that happens in Mower County, there is usually more damage to the furniture and contents than there is to the structure. At last count, there were several flood insurance policies in Mower County. If you are covered, check out the amount and make sure you have contents coverage.
Don’t wait for the next flood to buy insurance protection. There is a 30-day waiting period before National Flood Insurance Program coverage takes effect. Contact your insurance agent for more information on rates and coverage.
Remember: Even if the last flood missed you, or you have done some flood proofing, the next flood could be worse. Flood insurance covers all surface floods.
Flood-proofing Your Property
There are several different ways to protect a building from flood damage. One way is to keep the water away by regarding your lot, or building a small flood wall or earthen berm. These methods work if your lot is large enough, if flooding is not too deep, and if your property is not in the floodway.
Another approach is to make your walls waterproof and place watertight closures over the doorways. This method is not recommended for houses with basements, or if water will be over two feet deep.
A third approach is to raise the house above flood levels.
Many houses, even those not in the floodplain, have sewers that back up into the basement during heavy rains. A plug or standpipe can stop this if the water doesn’t get more than one or two feed deep. They can be purchased at a hardware store. For deeper sewer backup flooding, talk to a plumber about overhead sewers or a backup valve. These measures are called flood proofing or retrofitting. More information is available at the Austin Public Library.
X Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths, mostly during flash floods. Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can throw you off your feet. If you walk in standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there.
X Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Don’t drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out.
X Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to the Power Company or City Emergency Management office.
X Have you electricity turned off by the Power Company. Some appliances, such as television sets, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged. Don’t use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.
X Look out for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn things over to scare away small animals.
X Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.
X Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.
FLOODING - WELLS AND SEPTIC SYSTEMS
If you are in a low area or near a river or stream and floodwaters or standing water were within 50 feet of your well you should have your water tested. If your water has become discolored or taken on a different odor since the flooding you should also have your well sampled and the water tested. However, if flood waters from a river or stream or even run-off from the ground surface was standing over the top of your casing, or you noticed it running down along side the casing, you should have your well disinfected.
On most wells disinfection can be done relatively easily by following directions from the Minnesota Department of Health or the Mower County Environmental Health Department. If you are not able to do the disinfection yourself, or if after repeated attempts the disinfection has not removed the bacteria from your well, you should contact a licensed plumber who is able to work on wells or a licensed well contractor. A follow-up or “retest” is necessary to determine whether the disinfection has been effective. An additional test, two to six months after your disinfection and initial retest, is also advised to make sure that the bacteria has not reoccurred. Water tests on an annual basis are recommended for all private wells.
Sewage treatment systems normally consist of two components, the settling tank and the soil treatment unit. There are several ways that these can be impacted by floodwaters. First of all, a flood or heavy run-off can saturate the soil treatment unit or possibly causing water to run into it. Floodwaters may also cover the top of a septic tank causing water to run into it. During a flood, when a drainfield or septic tank are covered by water, the system should not be used.
Using the system at this time could cause contamination of water in the soil. At this time you are risking backup of sewage into the home as well.
After floodwaters recede, or after surface water has drained from the drainfield or septic tank, the drainfield should dry out and return to normal. This may take a matter of days or even weeks. If water has covered the septic tank, the septic tank should be pumped out as soon as possible to remove excess water to prevent solids from passing through the tank. The additional water in the septic tank will also create an additional load on the soil treatment unit. After water has dried up from the surface, a septic system should return to proper working order. If it does not, the ground water table may be interfering with the soil treatment unit, the biomat that exists in the soil treatment unit may have been disturbed, or solids may have been flushed from the septic tank and are now plugging a part of the soil treatment unit. In these cases you should contact a state licensed ISTS contractor. Names and phone numbers of these contractors are available at the Mower County Environmental Health Department or from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
FLOOD PROTECTION ASSISTANCE FOR RURAL PROPERTY OWNERS
This notice is to advise the public that the County Engineering Dept., Environmental Health and Planning Offices provide flood protection assistance which includes flood zone determinations, providing base flood and flood protection elevations, information on wells and sewer system construction and site visits.
– Information on wells and septic system in floodplain
Angie Knish, Mower County Public Works (507) 437-9560
– Flood zone determination and general information
More Information on Flooding can be found on the FEMA Website
Files are accessible only with username and password available from Emergency Management Office.
Austin & Mower County Emergency Operation Plan
Annex A - Notification and Warning
Annex B - Direction and Control
Annex C - Emergency Public Information
Annex D - Search and Rescue
Annex E - Health and Medical
Annex F - Evacuation, Traffic Control & Security
Annex G - Fire Protection
Annex H - Damage Assessment
Annex I - Congregate Care
Annex J - Debris Management
Annex K - Utility Restoration
Annex L - Radiological Protection
Annex M - Hazardous Materials Protection
Annex N - Animal Care Foreign Animal Disease
Annex O - Volunteer Resources
Annex P - Terrorism