Flood Plain

I poured out another 1.25” of water out of my rain gauge this morning. It’s hovering around 36ᵒ and headed for 26ᵒ by tomorrow morning. There’ll be ice crystal stalagmites standing up in the mud around the farm.

Sloppy wet doesn’t even begin to describe how messy it is around here.

One friend sent me a link to an old Johnny Cash song, “Five Feet High and Rising”. Johnny’s bass voice bellowing out,

“How high is the water Mama?”

“Two feet high and rising,” she says.

“We can make it to the road in a homemade boat ‘cause it’s the only thing left we got that’ll float.”

Rain like this will make a man think about a boat. He starts counting up the days and realizes we’re getting pretty close to 40 days and 40 nights of this stuff.

I’ve probably told you before that I’m a stickler for keeping records on rainfall. The total YTD so far is 21.875”. The average annual rainfall for these parts is only 48”. At this rate, we’ll get there by end of April. Lawd, help us.

So, my nursery buddy in Luthersville thinks he’s funny. He sends me a text.

“You growing any Gopher Wood trees down there?”

Noah, no doubt, would already be gathering up the crowd two by two. All I got is one dog. If the world is depending on me, we’re doomed.

One thing that bothers me about so much rain is that I built my house on the edge of a flood plain. Palmetto Creek is a slow winding sandy bottom creek that typically runs about 15 ft. wide and ankle deep. It moves quietly through the woods about 200 ft. behind my house.

Mr. Bill Floyd, whose family has been living here since Cracker Jacks came out, and who has hunted these woods and walked that creek his whole life, just shook his head at me one day.

“Uh, you gonna build a house down there by the creek?”

“Yes sir. Got me a real pretty place picked out. Native Azaleas. Mountain Laurels. Tall Poplars and Red Oaks.”

“Uh, huh. You do know the water can get up and running pretty good down there in that bottom?”

“That creek? I looked at the flood plain maps. I should be above all that.”

“Uh, huh. Well. (long pause and a spit) I wish you the best of luck.”

What he should have said was, “If I was you, I’d move that house about another 30 yards up the hill.”

Over the last 25 years I’ve seen the Palmetto out of the banks several times, but nothing that ever felt threatening. My wife grew up on the Alabama River and got completely flooded out of their house. Water up in the living room kind of flood. I’ve not experienced that.

But on Christmas Day, 2018, the water got up close to 10 ft. over normal level. Beth and I put a canoe in the water barely 15 ft. from the back door and paddled off through the woods to explore. It was quiet. The sun was out. Paddling among the trees without regard to where the creek channel might have been.

About a half mile downstream is Lake Lorraine. Normally a 12 acre lake, but on this day it was a 100 acre lake. The water was still 2 ft. below the emergency spillway, which, if the lake level had made it to the spillway, it would have put water inside my back door. Thank the Lord the rain ended.

So, Tuesday, an Inspector from the DNR shows up at the house. She tells my wife that she is there to assess the Palmetto flood plain behind our house. There is work to be done on Lake Lorraine downstream, and in the future plans to enlarge the dam on watershed lake #6 upstream.

“We have to assess the impact along the flood plain should one of these dams be breached by flood waters.”


The good news is that they plan to put a notch in the spillway on Lake Lorraine. That will drop the level at which water will go through the spillway. My back door is safer. The bad news is that a bigger dam upstream sends a whole heck of a lot more water by my back door should something catastrophic happen.

So, I’m lying in bed last night singing with Johnny Cash. “Two feet high and rising.”

I was wondering if we should sell the house. Water front property. Canoeing. Fishing. Quiet little creek. Peaceful setting. Sand bags available.

Nothing will probably ever happen. But the rain makes a man think about it.

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