The Monroe County Climate Change Task Force heard a variety of updates at its Jan. 5 meeting. The meeting was a hybrid in-person and virtual meeting, held at the Sparta American Legion Hall.
The meeting started with a presentation by Carl Duley of the University of Wisconsin Extension in Buffalo County about producer-led watershed council initiatives in his county.
Next, Fred Clark, Executive Director of Wisconsin Greenfire, provided an update on the Monroe County Climate Readiness and Rural Economic Opportunity Study. Clark reported that the study has been ongoing since May 2021 and is expected to wrap up its first fact-finding phase this month. After that, the initiative will move onto phase two, which will involve putting climate resilience demonstration projects on the landscape.
“Our study has involved three key analyses,” Clark told the group. “We have worked on watershed modeling with Dr. Eric Booth and his students at UW-Madison; we have made a watershed vulnerability analysis involving the 42 HUC-12 watersheds in the county; and we have conducted watershed opportunity assessments involving a spatial analysis of places on the landscape where resiliency projects would yield the most bang for the buck.”
Next steps will be to pursue funding to take a deeper dive. This funding may be available from the county, and from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Roxie Anderson, land use planner, and Allison Elliott, zoning administrator, provided an update about properties substantially damaged in the flood plain and floodway in the 2018 rain and flooding event acquired and demolished. In total, according to Anderson, eight properties have been acquired and demolished, with most of the work completed in just a few months in 2021.
“The funding to make removal of these properties in harm’s way was made possible through combined funding from FEMA, Wisconsin DNR and Couleecap,” Elliott explained. “This intiative has provided relief to property owners that have been constantly stressed and fearful in their homes every time it rains, who in many cases have been living in their damaged properties until relief has become available.”
The properties acquired will now undergo a process of developing a space management plan. Ownership of and responsibility for the properties will be determined by the Monroe County Board of Supervisors after the planning process is completed.
Dan Baumann, the DNR Secretary’s Director for Western Wisconsin out of the Eau Claire office, is a frequent participant in task force meetings.
“I applaud your efforts to remove these endangered properties that have been in harm’s way,” Baumann said. “What I want to know, now that you have completed this round of buyouts, is are there other areas in the county that need attention?”
Anderson responded that there are properties in the Villages of Kendall and Wilton, and in the Baraboo and Coon Creek watersheds that merit attention. Elliott agreed with Anderson that there remain many houses in the floodplain in the county that continue to be in harm’s way.
Anderson shared that the department had recently been awarded a grant from the Department of Health Services that will allow for the purchase of weather monitoring equipment for several areas in the county. Equipment at the PL-566 dam above Norwalk, damaged in a tornado last summer, will be replaced, and beacons or other alert systems will be installed in the Village of Norwalk.
In addition, flood warning systems will be installed in the Brush Creek watershed, which comes down from the ridge east of Cashton and empties into the Kickapoo River in Ontario. Many members of the Amish community in that area are hard to reach with flood warnings and alerts that utilize phones, internet and social media.
Anderson reported that their department is still waiting to hear back on a FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant they had applied for. If awarded, the grant would go a long way, along with matching funds raised locally, to completing the purchase of weather stations planned for the Kickapoo and Little La Crosse River watersheds.
“FEMA is really overloaded right now with all the recent weather disasters the nation has experienced, so things are moving along more slowly than anticipated with grant applications,” Anderson reported.
“With a little luck, by the end of next summer we will be done with the installation of weather stations in the first two watersheds we prioritized after the 2018 rain and flood event and be able to move on to other watersheds in the county,” Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel said.
Anderson reported that the National Weather Service in La Crosse is now receiving data from the weather stations currently installed, and that the notification systems are working. She said that they had recently had an alert based on ice building up on the top of one of the stream level sensors that had triggered an alert and provided a learning experience.
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