VIOLA, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Flooding problems are nothing new for Vernon County, but one village is taking steps to lessen the future impacts of the Kickapoo River.
In tonight’s County by County, Alex Loroff describes the effect flooding has had on the village of Viola.
The Kickapoo River runs throughout eastern Vernon County, making its way down from Ontario, through La Farge, and eventually flowing into the village of Viola.
It’s part of the natural beauty of the area, but when heavy rains happen, the river can go from peaceful and serene to destructive.
Ben Culver, Viola Assistant Fire Chief
“Normally if we get large rain events where it’s four or five inches of rain at a time or more, we tend to get a lot of water that flows into the Kickapoo watershed, it can be anything from flash flooding in outlying areas that blows water and debris across the highways to full-blown flooding like we’ve had multiple times here
Viola has dealt with its fair share of flooding throughout the years, affecting homeowners located in the floodplain.
“We’ve lost now I think so far six homes that have been torn down from previous floods and we haven’t even gotten into the 2018 buyouts yet, so it sounds like we’re going to lose about six to ten more homes.”
The worst flood damage came in 2018, where in addition to the homes that were damaged, the village’s business Coordaor also suffered.
“Pretty much all the businesses were damaged, some pretty significantly where they were down for many months to get repaired and fixed and back, some hung it up and didn’t come back.”
Despite the consistency and ferocity of the floods Viola has experienced, assistant fire chief ben culver says it hasn’t broken any spirits.
“You know you’d think people would just be devastated by it, and in general they are, but it’s amazing to see a community kind of come together and work, everybody helps everybody.”
The village’s flooding issues have drawn attention from elected leaders in the state, as Senator Tammy Baldwin recently visited viola to hear the flooding accounts firsthand.
“It’s one thing to just sort of say we’ve had all these floods in Wisconsin, it’s another thing to come and be able to see traces of the last flood, but also to be able to see what communities need to do in order to protect their village, to protect the people in their village, and businesses in their village,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin also learned about the plan the village is developing to mitigate future flood damage.
“Trying to provide places for new housing out of the floodplain, provide places for new business, do some infrastructure work to protect some of our critical stuff like our sewer systems and water supply and all that,” said Baldwin.
To assist their efforts, Baldwin and officials from the USDA awarded viola a 250 thousand dollar grant to relocate streets and utilities out of the floodplain.
“What I want to do is make sure that our federal emergency response programs, and the longer-term economic investment programs, are responsive to real community needs.”
Culver says the village is grateful for the assistance, which is crucial to execute the mitigation strategy.
“There’s no way a small community like this could ever afford to do any of that without grants, without federal funding, state funding, a small village like this with seven, 800 people in it, it just doesn’t have the capacity like a city like Madison or La Crosse that would be able to fund some of these projects.”
Culver hopes those projects will spur future growth in Viola, away from the unpredictability of the Kickapoo River.
For County by County, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.
The USDA also helped fund viola’s water and sewer project earlier this year, which is designed to provide clean and reliable water in the village’s resettlement areas.