Sunday, August 26, 2018

Here Comes the Flood

It's been a very intense week in Dane County, Wisconsin.

On Sunday, I returned from co-teaching a week-long Karuna Training retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico:
View of the road and Pedernal in the distance. Note the dryness, despite flash floods the first night we were there.

And on Monday night, we had severe and rapid enough thunderstorms to cause serious mass flooding not two blocks from my house in Madison. This is after one night of rain and a few days of having to release Lake Mendota to preserve the dam into the river that flows south to further, now overflowing, lakes:

What's in the middle of the photo is a bench and what's in front of it is normally sidewalk. Yahara River in Tenney Park.
Here are more photos to help you get a sense of what it is like around here right now.

If maps are more your style, check here. We live at N. Baldwin and E. Washington.

As you can see by the maps, we live on an Isthmus, which is a strip of land between two lakes. While Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are not "Great Lakes" (EG Superior or Michigan, which do border Wisconsin), they are pretty substantial. Not ponds. And over the last few days, I have learned a lot more than I used to know about these lakes and the land on which I live. Namely, that the lakes are kept extra high for recreational purposes; that the Isthmus was once and really should still be a marsh in most places (including where my house stands); and that our storm drain system is poorly managed.

We are facing what could be called a natural disaster, but actually, it's a man-made or man-contributed-to disaster. Of course, many have warned of this for years, but most of us weren't listening. And those who were listening (those in charge) were ignoring, for all the reasons we ignore things - money, denial, opposing interests.

A projected map that's been shown on and off for years, which is re-surfacing now. When it has been shared, it has mostly ignored by those in power repeatedly.

Of course, this land used to be cared for by native people who were driven out centuries ago in order to make a state capitol in this precarious but beautiful city. I am feeling all the layers of our mis-management, climate change, and colonialism coming home to roost this week, as we sandbag my house and those of loved ones and strangers nearby.

Ilana is currently wet-vacing the "normal" amount of water we have in the basement (when you live on an isthmus, you do get wet basements; at least that we are aware of) so we can re-seal the sewer drain (lest it pop up and fill our basement with shit, which it will do if too many houses flood) and hunker down for storms beginning this afternoon.

Ironically, because of where we live, we are both part of the current problem and also subject to the results of the solutions. They've been draining Lake Mendota, which is top in our four lake water system, and so the Lake closest to our house (by a hair, we are nearly equidistant between Mendota and Monona) is "safe" as you can see in this animation, where it remains below 100 year flood levels.

However, we are also very close to the Yahara River (two blocks) and the even bigger issue is that we are at a low spot on the Isthmus (around 851 feet above sea level) which means our storm drains are full right now and ready to burst at the slightest increase. We are less likely to flood because of either the lakes or rivers, but because our storm drains can't drain into either of those bodies of water. In fact, the last few days, water has been coming *out* of the drains and filling our streets. This is all really well explained historically in this incredible document (long read but worth it if you want to see how we got to this point in Madison).

So we are as ready as we can be, and now we wait. Will it rain? Too hard and too fast? Will they have to release Lake Mendota again, flooding the system and pushing water up out of our storm drains? Or will the storms pass to the North and West, which won't effect us immediately but a few days down the road? Or will it all dry up, like rains do in New Mexico?

Let all this preparation be in vain. Only some already have experienced the consequences, so what we are waiting for has already passed in Madison and surrounding areas recently. I am scared that so few of my neighbors - including those in much more direct possible impact from flooding - are doing nothing. The National Guard is standing by, filling more bags and forcing them on to streets that are already flooding.

All we can hope for for now is that none of it will be needed, that there won't be worse damage. And all we can hope for soon after it is over, if not during this time, is for the uppity ups to pay the fuck attention and work harder on our water system.