Kay Zeisloft can remember the day a tidal wave of water hit the city of Findlay in August 2007. An unusually heavy rainfall sent a wall of water into the city, with hundreds evacuated from their homes. The fact that Findlay flooded wasn’t a surprise—it had happened for generations because the city has a low elevation.
At Zeisloft’s farm, the water rose high enough to float a canoe up to her front porch. Fortunately the house was on high enough ground that it didn’t flood. But that 2007 flood changed everything, and now Zeisloft and other Hancock County Farm Bureau members and rural residents are worried. The city of Findlay has been pursuing a plan drawn up by the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a 9.6-mile, 200-foot-wide, 15-foot deep channel that would divert floodwater from the city. This diversion channel would run through the middle of prime farmland and in some cases split farms in half and potentially leave them landlocked. Hancock County Farm Bureau has been front and center on the issue for years.
“We’re not against flood control. We don’t like plans that move the floodplain,” said Zeisloft, noting that the diversion channel could cause flooding in areas that haven’t flooded in the past.
In true grassroots fashion, Zeisloft and other Farm Bureau members have been talking to both rural and urban residents about problems that the diversion channel could create. They’ve also come up with flood control suggestions that are a fraction of the estimated $80 million cost for the diversion channel.
“We need to bring common sense to this situation. We think our ideas would help alleviate flooding as well as be beneficial for water quality,” said Hancock County Farm Bureau President Gary Wilson.
Specifically, the county Farm Bureau has proposed officials remove sandbars, log jams and other overgrowth from the Blanchard River and straighten it out by removing oxbows.
“We’ve come up with a better plan —maintain the channel that is already there. It’s been neglected for 50 years or more and they need to do more with what we call the pinchpoints, the areas that cause flooding like oxbows and low bridges,” said Wilson, who set up a special meeting with U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs during Ohio Farm Bureau’s County Presidents’ Trip to Washington, D.C. in March to discuss the situation. Gibbs oversees the committee that appropriates money to the Army Corps for projects.
Hancock County Farm Bureau’s educational efforts have been extensive: members have attended and spoken at Army Corps meetings, written letters to local newspapers and chambers of commerce, met with county commissioners and brought in water quality experts to discuss the situation. The county Farm Bureau has been the voice of rural residents who know the lay of their land and are concerned that cutting into the porous limestone to create the diversion channel could cause floodwater to contaminate the aquifer, their water source. The diversion channel also could create water quality issues since the water in it will be shallow and stagnant until that once-in-a-lifetime flood hits, Wilson said.
For now, Findlay is continuing to weigh its options. When the price of the diversion channel rose to $80 million, the Army Corps said the project was no longer worth the cost and wasn’t eligible for federal funding. The county has now hired an engineering firm to determine if the diversion channel is the best flood-control measure.
“I’m so happy my husband (Dean) decided to join Farm Bureau,” Zeisloft said. “We’re such a minority of the population here and we have to stick together. We need some type of organization to belong to and Hancock County Farm Bureau is it.”