The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 16, 2013

The flood of 1973 — could it happen again?

City of Enid makes improvements to floodplain

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Bob Berry uses maps to make a point.

This quest he’s on — to prove the city hasn’t done enough to mitigate the flood hazard in Enid — uses the same maps commissioned by the city five years ago to show which parts of the city would be inundated in floods statistically rare enough to be called 100-year and 500-year events.

At a quick glance, the maps are just a series of squiggly lines and bloated spots that follow the general outlines of Enid’s two major waterways — Boggy and Skeleton creeks.

For officials tasked with preserving life and property, though, they show possible danger areas and define which homes are required to keep flood insurance.



Floodplain

There are several factors that define where floodwaters are predicted to escape the banks of Boggy Creek, which bisects Enid toward the southwest, meets up with Skeleton Creek and dumps into a low plain in the Brookside neighborhood.

Those factors include upstream real estate development, making the soil there impermeable, naturally-occurring clutter in existing diversion channels and too few improvements to land meant to hold stormwater in place.

Click HERE for interactive map to see where flood plain is today and where flooding was in 1973

Berry has filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing there hasn’t been enough done to protect the neighborhoods along Boggy Creek from another flood. He contends that some areas protected 40 years ago now are in danger of flooding. He said this includes some additional areas of Brookside and the neighborhood south and west of the Indian Hills Shopping Center.

“They’re depending on people of intellect and people with resources to get their back,” Berry said. “To me, it’s a simple thing. Some kid gets killed? How would you like that on your conscience?”

Berry and the city now are in mediation and both parties declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations.



Rare floods

Forty years ago, a 500-year flood caused massive damage to the city and killed nine people. Many of them lived in Brookside, where the torrent completely submerged houses and stranded survivors on roofs above a river that stretched up to almost a quarter-mile wide in some places.

That scenario still is real, according to both city and federal flood maps.

Berry’s argument, citing the city’s 2008-era flood hazard maps, is that areas that theoretically would have stayed dry during a 100-year flood are in danger because of land development upstream.

Some of those areas are owned by Berry’s real estate development firm.

A 500-year flood is considered a flood event that has a .2 percent chance of happening in any single year. A 100-year flood has a 1 percent chance of occurring.

City Manager Eric Benson disagrees with Berry’s assessment.

“I don’t see how an event like 1973 could happen again,” Benson said, adding the horrific flood of Oct. 10-11, 1973, could indeed repeat itself if the rainfall conditions were doubled. In the 1973 flood, National Weather Service recorded 15.68 inches of rain.

The city indeed has been working to improve flood control, but Benson said it did come at a delayed pace.

“In the past four years, we’ve done more than 30 miles of channel maintenance in the city. In the 20 years preceding that, none of it had been done,” he said.

The city still places Brookside high on the list of concern, but a solution would cost tens of millions of dollars through a massive stormwater detention facility, or by buying up houses in the neighborhood.

Also, Benson said, Berry has been “very good” about keeping the issue in focus.

“We absolutely agree that there is a need for a more-than-sober approach to this calamity,” Benson said. “I agree with Bob in that stormwater and drainage and flood protection is a key priority for any community.”



Stormwater fees

For the city’s part, Berry commends staff for the work it has done building new stormwater detention ponds and clearing silt and brush from the creek.

“However, they have spent so much money on cosmetics we could have been done with detention,” he said.

The city sets aside stormwater and development fees for floodplain protection. The lawsuit alleges Enid officials have spent money on things unrelated to the fees’ original intent. Again, Benson counters that the money has been spent in accordance with law.

“We have never used stormwater funds for anything but stormwater,” he said.

Current projects include five detention facilities under construction.