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Mitigation Measures Turn the Table on Two Centuries of Flooding

LAWRENCE COUNTY, TN – Plagued with floods for nearly 200 years, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, a city with approximately 11,000 residents, has had its share of flood damage to homes, roads, and public buildings. After seven presidentially declared disasters, an annual average of 60 inches of rainfall, and millions of dollars in flood damages, the city officials decided enough is enough, and took action to control the flooding.

Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant programs, the resulting flood control project provides the city some major relief from flood-related damages. HMA programs provide grants to eligible states, tribes, and territories for pre- and post-disaster mitigation projects that will reduce the risk of loss of life and property due to disaster events.

The flood control project includes two retention ponds and one detention basin, all connected by several flood channels that are designed to hold 100 million gallons of stormwater.

Retention ponds and detention basins capture large amounts of water that collect during frequent flash floods. Retention ponds hold water for extended periods of time, while detention basins hold water for short periods, allowing for better control of the stormwater. The connecting flood channels direct water to the ponds, controlling the water flow in order to prevent the channels from filling too quickly and reduce the force of uncontrolled flooding.

With the use of FEMA’s HMA grant program, known as Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA), city officials were able to obtain an extensive flood study of the area and receive help with planning the project. FMA funds mitigation projects for properties and structures insured under the FEMA-administered National Flood Insurance Program.

Phase I of the project consisted of more than 80 acquisitions of homes and businesses and development of two small retention ponds on the north side of downtown. The city used Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - Disaster Recovery Initiative (DRI) grants to purchase the properties. HUD’s DRI grants are appropriated by Congress to address unmet disaster recovery needs.

“Clearing the creek was the main objective,” saidvLawrence County Emergency Manager Joe Baxter. “We had to move the people and businesses to let the creek have its path.”

When the flood of 2003 struck the city, the two partially completed retention ponds proved to be highly effective. Together, the ponds were able to capture 7 million gallons of water that would have otherwise caused major flood damage to residences and businesses.

Once the water receded and cleaning was done, the city began Phase II of the plan. The city used funding from FEMA’s HMA grant program, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), to assist in development of a 7-acre detention basin about 3 blocks south of Phase I. HMGP offers states up to 75 percent of the cost of mitigation projects following a disaster.

Currently under construction, Phase III is a series of underground channels placed throughout the town to control the flow of drainage to and from the ponds and basin. This major mitigation project has provided flood protection for 100 homes, businesses and churches for the past 7 years.

In May 2010, much of central Tennessee experienced one of the worst floods in its history. Flood waters pummeled Lawrenceburg, filling the ponds, basin. and flood channels beyond capacity, but the downtown area escaped with only minor damages. Flooding only destroyed county roads and bridges during this event.

“It was nice not to have to go out and rescue people,” Baxter said. “Before, we had to use boats on the main road during rescue missions.”

As the final phase of the mitigation project nears completion, Baxter is pleased with the results.

“We have not had any major damages to homes and businesses since construction began in 2003,” he said. “The project is a major help to the entire community.”

In addition, Lawrenceburg converted some of the purchased properties into public parks. One of those acquisitions, Scout Park, is a campsite and home of the local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts lodge. Another is now Veterans Park, a scenic walking site that includes picnic areas as well as campgrounds.

The mitigation project opens the land, allowing for better drainage of the area. Creating parks is not only smart land use planning for acquisition projects, but also beautifies the area by adding places the community can enjoy.

Last updated Jun 3, 2020