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Community benefits from NRCS Floodwater Retarding Structures

story by Beverly Moseley

Experts predicted dry conditions to continue through March due to La Nina effects. Mother Nature has proved the experts wrong.

Much of northeast Texas continues to receive rainfall and many counties no longer lie in drought’s grip. Rainfall systems east of the I-35 corridor have gone a long way toward alleviating drought conditions all the way to Southeast Texas.

But with the rains, have come flooding conditions in some counties. Flooding was experienced in Van Zandt County in late March, where one rain event on March 20 dropped an estimated 5 inches of rain within a 10 hour time period. It fell on ground that was still saturated from rainfall that had previously moved through the area.

“Most of it happened overnight, so a lot of people were not aware we received as much rain as we did. It started about 1 a.m. and the largest part of the rain was over by 11 a.m.,” said Julie Moore, District Conservationist with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Athens.

Area flooding was a concern. Moore said she had gone out and checked on NRCS Cedar Creek watershed sites the previous week and found that they were full. These sites feed into the Trinity River.

The late March rains were enough to push water flowing from the watershed through the principal spillway into the emergency spillway which is 3-feet lower than the top of the dam.

“That’s why this was an event. The water was flowing through the emergency spillway," Moore said.

Flood water retardant structures, such as the one in Van Zandt County known as Cedar Creek Site 135A, are designed to hold back water to prevent downstream flooding which in turn protects farmland lives and property. These structures allow water to filter slowly back into the main water channel.

Moore said Cedar Creek Site 135A is located on a smaller watershed that is mainly surrounded by land used for hay production. It’s part of a series of watersheds on Cedar Creek.

According to James Featherston, a NRCS agricultural economist, seven floodwater retarding structures prevented an estimated $250,000 worth of damages from floodwaters on March 19-20. Four of these structures in Henderson County functioned as designed on the east laterals of the Trinity River and saved a conservative estimate of $100,000 to agricultural production land.

The series of three floodwater retarding structures on the Cedar Creek watershed that feed into the Trinity River prevented an estimated $150,000 in damages to surrounding areas. Featherston said benefits included the protection of downstream agricultural land, along with stream crossings on two county roads and FM 47.

The partnership between NRCS and the Kaufman-Van Zandt Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) forged over decades has proven beneficial once again to the community during the recent rain storms. The floodwater retarding structures that prevented upwards of $250,000 in floodwater damages were financed through NRCS' Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. The SWCD secured the watershed easements that in turn helped protect the natural resources in the area, along with people and structures.

“These structures designed by the NRCS functioned as planned and protected the natural resources in the area,” Moore said.

Pictured is a floodwater retarding structure and emergency spillway at Cedar Creek Site 135A in Van Zandt County.

Pictured is a floodwater retarding structure and emergency spillway at Cedar Creek Site 135A in Van Zandt County. According to Julie Moore, NRCS District Conservationist, flood water is flowing approximately 1 foot deep through the emergency spillway. This site protects Van Zandt County Road 2403 and several buildings that are located just behind the floodwater retarding structure which is designed to allow water to flow through the emergency spillway and not overtop the dam in the event of heavy rainfall.