City makes case for coordinator

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

The city of Austin is pushing for a watershed coordinator.

City officials and staff made their case for Mower County's involvement in a far-ranging effort to examine flood control measures and take preventative steps toward easing flood concerns at a meeting Wednesday.

Listening were Mower County Commissioners Len Miller, 4th District, and Ray Tucker, 2nd District. The county commissioners expressed interest, but stopped short of unequivocally endorsing of the idea.

Email newsletter signup

In the middle of the debate was Bev Nordby, district manager for the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District. The county funds 60 percent of the SWCD budget.

Nordby made a pitch for a watershed coordinator a year ago, but the idea failed when neither the city nor the county could include it in their budgets for 2002.

The idea received new life this spring; especially from the Flood Action Citizens Task Source group.

At Wednesday's meeting, it dominated a 90-minute monthly discussion of mutual issues for city and county officials.

Mayor Bonnie Rietz said, "There's already a lot of interest at the council level" and Nordby added, "There's more interest than I've ever seen."

Severe flooding in recent years is driving the interest in flood control measures. The city has responded in the only apparent way it can: implementing a massive flood buyout program of the most vulnerable residential and commercial properties.

However, FACTS members, including owners of properties in flood harm's way, and others want to address flood control by attacking the problem at the source: the Turtle Creek, Cedar River and Dobbins Creek watershed areas.

Nordby agrees with the plan to create a watershed coordinator position and implement large-scale flood control measures in the watersheds around Austin. However, she cautioned, "This won't save Austin from the flooding of 2000."

"I think it's important everybody have realistic expectations," advised Mickey Jorgenson, 1st Ward Austin City Council Member.

Gloria Nordin, 3rd Ward Council member, said she believes water quality and land use must be priorities of any flood control initiative. High levels of fecal chloroform and a recent fish kill in the Cedar River, one of three waterways running through Austin, have surfaced as top concerns in a flood-less spring.

Dick Lang, 3rd Ward Council Member, spoke against "too much talk without any action."

"It appears to me this is a far greater problem than Mower County can handle alone," said Dick Chaffee, Council Member At Large.

Miller and Tucker listened carefully. Tucker said, a watershed coordinator's job description needs to be written and Nordby said she had done that.

The discussion ended with city and council officials agreeing to invite Laura Friest, the Upper Iowa River watershed coordinator, to return to Austin to meet with officials, including state legislators, to reexamine the benefits of a coordinator serving the Cedar River watershed area.