UPDATE: Sauk, Columbia County authorities implore residents to plan ahead for weekend flooding

April 20, 2019 GMT

Eric Shimpach says he knows that filling sandbags is not part of a Portage Common Council member’s job description.

But on a sunny, clear Friday afternoon, the new District 6 alderman — sworn in just three days earlier — enlisted the help of his father, John Shimpach, to shovel sand into bags, in anticipation of a forecasted near-record rise of the Wisconsin River.

“We’re filling, what, about 50 bags for one neighbor, and I don’t know how many another one needs,” Eric Shimpach said, as he scooped about four spades full of sand from a pile at Sunset Park in Portage, into a sandbag that his father was holding open.

At 4 p.m. Friday, the National Weather Service reported the river level at Portage to be 18.04 feet, roughly a foot above the minor flood stage of 17 feet.

If the weather service’s forecasts come to pass, and the river crests at 20.5 feet by Monday, it would be just shy of the record level of 20.7 feet set in September 2010.

That could put West Conant Street under water in the vicinity of the river bank and the boat ramp, and could threaten some homes in the area, which is part of Shimpach’s district.

Major flood stage begins above 19 feet.

Flood preparation

According to a news release from Columbia County’s Emergency Management Office, people can pick up sandbags at the Columbia County Highway Shop, 338 West Old Highway 16, in Wyocena.

The city has set up a sand pile at Sunset Park in Portage, and anybody can use it to fill sand bags, provided they bring their own shovel and a truck or trailer to haul the filled bags, city of Portage Administrative Assistant Carrianne Engelhart said.

In an additional effort to prevent floodwaters from rushing across West Edgewater Street in Portage, municipal employees closed several water gates Friday afternoon.

Public works employee Ryan Armson said in the event of rain, the street would be more likely to flood if the gates were left open.

Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke said city, county and state officials will continue to monitor the river over the weekend.

Klafke said local law enforcement and the Department of Public Works have set up staging areas in case the river crests over Summit and West Carroll streets.

He said city employees’ efforts to prepare water pumps and block off several storm drains with plastic and sand should help keep the floodwaters at bay.

If at all possible, Klafke said community members should avoid roads with water, and under no circumstances should anyone drive past a barricade, for their own safety.

Floodwaters are expected to recede Tuesday night.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation along Levee Road in Sauk County will serve as a staging ground for Sauk County authorities to fill sandbags over the weekend, Sauk County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jelinek said.

Maria Kopecky, education coordinator for the foundation, said although the building itself has not been affected by flooding in the past, several nearby roadways and access points tend to flood as river levels rise.

Kopecky said she expects some road closure signs to go up over the weekend.

Public safety

Jelinek estimates 15 homes along Indian Trails Parkway in the town of Delton and 15 homes along Levee Road in the town of Fairfield are likely to be affected by flooding soon.

“I’m not waiting until the water is at somebody’s door,” Jelinek said. “I would tell people to prepare now. It looks like it’s going to be close to the record water levels.”

He said community members need to pay attention to rising river levels and heed warnings from authorities.

Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson recalled Friday that firefighters had to walk through a flooded road to reach a structure fire along Blackhawk Road several years ago. The area is subject to frequent flooding, but the depth of this weekend’s water is expected to surpass recent events.

He said in the event of a fire or other emergency amid near-record flooding, firefighters would pull their trucks as far forward as possible and then proceed on foot. He said fire response efforts remain the same, with the priority of ensuring people are safely evacuated.

Driving trucks through water can be dangerous, particularly if the water is murky and dark, because drivers might not see obstacles or hazards in their way.

“Once you get into high water, you have to look at, ‘Can I go any further?’” Simonson said.

The Portage Fire Department also has access to a hovercraft and a boat, if needed.

Road closures

Other areas of Columbia County expected to be affected by the rising Wisconsin River include River Oaks Road in the town of Dekorra, River Shores Road in the town of Lewiston and Levee and Wood streets in the Portage area, according to the National Weather Service forecast.

Columbia County Emergency Management Coordinator Kathy Johnson said road closures will be updated on the county’s website, co.columbia.wi.us, under “public interest.” As of Friday, closed roads included:

Meek Road from County Highway I in the town of Arlington to Ramsey Road.Blackhawk Road and Caledonia Blount Road at Levee Road in the town of Caledonia.Lake, Old River and Tritz roads and West Lane in the town of Caledonia.County Highway EE to Military Road in the town of Marcellon.County Highway E between Libke and Newell Roads (signs located at signs located at Highway 44 and County Highway H), in the town of Scott.Newell Road from County Highway HH to County Highway E in the town of Scott.

Wyona Road in the town of Wyocena is open up to the bridge over Duck Creek, but the bridge and Wyona Park are closed.

Johnson urged motorists not to drive around barricades on roads, nor to drive through standing water on roads. As little as 6 inches of water can sweep a car into the river, she said.