Flood Control Doesn't Have to be Ugly

by Deborah A. Foley, Proj. Mgr., Programs and Project Management Division; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul, MN,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1995, Vol. 65, Issue 11, Pg. 50-53

Document Type: Feature article


The recently completed flood control project in Rochester, Minn. shows how innovative engineering combined with aesthetically-sensitive design can integrate flood protection into an urban environment and come in $24 million under budget. This fall, Rochester celebrated the completion of its new flood control project. The $97 million project provides a myriad of economic, recreational, and social benefits for this southeastern Minnesota community of 70,000 while reducing the threat of damages from floods like that of July 1978. Nearly two-thirds of the city, located about 70 mi southeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul, lies within the floodplain formed by the South Fork Zumbro River and its tributaries. The river bisects the city from south to north, flowing through industrial, residential, and park areas, as well as through the downtown business district. The watershed drains 304 sq mi, measured at the USGS gauge near the city's northern limits. The upper watershed consists of hilly agricultural lands with steep channel gradients, providing the necessary conditions for flash flooding. Flooding in the South Fork Zumbro basin falls into two categories--high stages from combined spring snowmelt and rainfall runoff, such as the floods in March 1962 and March 1965, and peak stages caused by heavy rain during summer and autumn thunderstorms, like the July 1978 flood. Flood control in Rochester is provided by a pair of projects that were designed and constructed cooperatively by two federal agencies in partnership with the city of Rochester. The Corps of Engineers project, the focus of this article, entails construction activities on over 9 mi of the South Fork Zumbro River and two tributaries--Bear and Cascade Creeks. Upstream in the South Fork Zumbro watershed, the Natural Resources Conservation Service constructed seven upstream impoundments to attentuate peak flows, reducing the design discharge by 16% to 35% on the river and tributaries. Together, the Corps and NRCS projects are designed to provide the community with protection from approximately a 200-year flood.

Subject Headings: Rivers and streams | Hydraulic design | Federal government | Watersheds | Floods | Project management | High-rise buildings | Business districts | Minnesota | United States

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