Saturday, September 28, 2002

System tracks rising waters

Officials hope to bring it online for Mill Creek area

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPRINGDALE — With a couple of mouse clicks, Markus Ritsch of Fort Collins, Colo., demonstrated Friday how Butler and Hamilton county residents could get immediate warnings about the rain coming down on their homes.

        At a Mill Creek Watershed Council session, the representative from Diad Inc. showed the company's flood-warning software that will be central to a new $352,000 early-warning system along flood-prone Mill Creek.

        The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to finance the installation of the new system by the spring but still needs Congress to approve the agency's 2003 budget.

        The new system would operate from base stations in Evendale and Sharonville that would be in contact with seven field stations and more than 30 rain gauges.

        The base stations would determine how high the water is at the field stations, how quickly it is rising, how close it is to flood stage and whether it is gaining momentum and height while coursing toward the Ohio River.

        During heavy rains, the base stations would be in constant contact with supporting agencies, such as the Metropolitan Sewer District, the National Weather Service and police and fire agencies in communities along the creek.

        Also, anyone with Internet access could log into the water-level database offered by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and see how high water is at the rain gauge nearest them. The USGS is connected to more than 30 gauges throughout Butler and Hamilton counties.

        The Mill Creek Valley Conservancy District most likely would oversee the network. “This system will be more scientific and hopefully more accurate to assist the community,” said Sharonville Police Chief Michael Schappa, who ordered police officers to keep a constant eye on the creek once steady rains began to fall on Thursday.

        In July 2001, Sharonville experienced a 500-year flood, which caused more than $50 million in damage to businesses in the city. Chief Schappa said the damage could have been minimized with the proposed flood-warning system.

        The new system will have a built-in safety net. Locations for the base stations in Evendale and Sharonville have not been pinpointed but each will be duplicating the other's work.

        And, if the stations' computers lose their Internet connection and cannot connect into the USGS database, radio and satellite equipment would be able to provide similar information.

        Communities also would be able to say at which water levels they would want to be alerted. Transmitters automatically will alert the base stations whenever certain levels of water are reached.

        “If we ever get it in the ground, it's going to be a good program. We're going to keep pressing them to get it in the ground before the next rainy season,” said Nancy Ellwood, executive director of the Mill Creek Watershed Council.

        Because of the council's prodding, the U.S. Corps of Engineers began working on an early flood warning system in 1999. James Magnus of the USGS has been overseeing the project ever since.

        He led Friday's presentation, telling more than 30 representatives from surrounding communities that the system would save them millions in damage.

        “It has blown me away,” he said.

        At Friday's session, he watched Mr. Ritsch call up a map of Ohio. It had red, blue and black patches. Hamilton and Butler counties were nearly covered in red, indicating the heavy amount of rain that fell in a 12-hour span. The picture was black for the previous hour, since the rains had curtailed.

        “It's going to really affect Mill Creek,” Mr. Mangus said. “When you know an event's coming, you can just leave the computer up and watch the colors.”


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