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University weathers Chippewa River flooding with few issues

RELEASED: Sept. 27, 2010

Floodwaters lodged a tree against a piling of the UW-Eau Claire footbridge

Floodwaters lodged a tree against a piling of the UW-Eau Claire footbridge late Saturday afternoon. The waters eventually dislodged the tree and it floated downstream. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Randy Saheim, Office of Loss Prevention and Safety)

flooding along First Avenue and Chippewa Street

Rising river water and backed-up storm sewers led to flooding along First Avenue and Chippewa Street. This was the scene, from the entrance of UW-Eau Claire’s Water Street parking lot, at about 6 p.m. Saturday. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Randy Saheim, Office of Loss Prevention and Safety)

flooding to south of Haas Fine Arts center

Floodwaters crept over the bike trail and up the hill on the south side of Haas Fine Arts Center on Saturday afternoon. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Randy Saheim, Office of Loss Prevention and Safety)

EAU CLAIRE — Flood protocols were in place at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire over the weekend as a surging Chippewa River, which crested at its fifth-highest level on record, caused some minor flooding on campus grounds and minimal seepage in several buildings.

The river crested at 777.5 feet at 3 p.m. and again at midnight Sept. 25, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage is 773 feet. As of 6 a.m. today, the river level was 772.6 feet.

At UW-Eau Claire, facilities personnel and University Police followed protocols established following floods in 1993 and 1996, said Terry Classen, director of facilities management and author of the protocols.

"The plan we have in place includes specific actions to be taken as the river rises to particular levels, based on what we observed at those levels in the previous floods," Classen said. "We were pleased to see that our plan worked as expected, with no major flood damage to campus and no building evacuations needed."

As campus officials received word that the river would crest above flood stage, a system in place to pump rising water from Little Niagara Creek on lower campus back into the river was activated to help prevent flooding in that area. Pumping began Friday night and continued through Sunday afternoon, Classen said.

The pumping system kept creek levels down and prevented flooding of Davies Center and McIntyre Library, and it prevented the need for shutting down the lower-campus electrical and steam distribution systems, he said.

Due to the weekend's flooding, the Haas Fine Arts parking lot and the sidewalk south of the lot were closed Friday as water flowed into that area, and sidewalk lighting in the area was turned off for safety purposes, Classen said. The Putnam Park walking trail on the south side of the river also was closed and remains barricaded due to high river levels, he said.

Crews also placed plugs in campus storm sewers to prevent them from backing up with river water, Classen said.

The flood's impact on campus was limited to seepage in the University Bookstore and under the stages in Riverside Theatre and Gantner Concert Hall in the Haas Fine Arts Center, and crews worked over the weekend to remove the water, Classen said.

Classen said facilities employees also had two positive findings during the weekend flooding.

"We discovered that our 2004-05 riverbank stabilization project actually lowered the level of the river running through campus by a half a foot," Classen said, explaining that reduced friction along the sides of the river and a more gentle curve in the bank moved the water through more swiftly than during past floods.

In the past, the river level at the UW-Eau Claire footbridge has been a foot lower than the level at the Grand Avenue bridge in downtown Eau Claire. The campus level now is 1½ feet lower than the downtown level, Classen said.

The university's sanitary sewer also was unaffected during this flood a change from past floods, when the sewer became inundated with river water and it was necessary to close campus buildings, Classen said. In floods prior to this weekend, the Brewer Hall and Campus School basements, as well as Davies Center, Schofield Hall and Katherine Thomas Hall had to be evacuated because of sewer water backups. Classen credited a repair several years ago by the city of Eau Claire to a fixed sanitary sewer manhole adjacent to campus for preventing the sewer backup during this year's flood.

-30-

JP/DW

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