Study of flood-prone river basin progresses

Published 10:08 am Saturday, May 22, 2010

FRANKLIN—Army Corps of Engineers officials met with area leaders Friday to discuss the upcoming reconnaissance study of the Chowan River Basin.

“The study authorization for the project was to identify flood risk management features within the basin,” said Chris Turner, project manager for the study by the Corps. “In addition (we will look at) other water resources, with an emphasis on flood damage reduction, environmental restoration, stream bank erosion and other navigation issues.”

Turner said the first, or reconnaissance, phase of the project will be totally funded by the federal government and should conclude by this winter. The cost of this phase is estimated to be $96,000.

“At this point in the project, we’re just out there trying to gather and examine existing information that’s within the watershed,” Turner said. “We’re soliciting input from the stakeholders and trying to identify areas of concern within the basin and how we may be able to help.”

Turner said the reconnaissance phase would be followed by a feasibility phase, which could last up to three years and would receive half of its funding from the federal government. State and local sources would need to fund the other half.

If necessary, a design phase would follow that would receive 75 percent of its funding from the federal government and the remainder from state and local sources.

“Once we find a justifiable project, we’re going to design it for constructability,” Turner said, adding that the design phase could last up to two years.

Construction, operation and maintenance would follow, Turner said.

Helene Haluska, social scientist for the Corps of Engineers, said many structures have been built in the Norfolk District — which includes the study area — to mitigate water issues.

“We have constructed deep and shallow draft channels, locks and dams, and we maintain them,” Haluska said. “In our district we have port facilities, turning basins, off-shore and other channels that network to the various terminals and port facilities.”

The Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin rivers are all part of the Chowan River Basin, which is about 130 miles long and drains 5,000 square miles of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Eleven counties in Virginia and five in North Carolina make up the basin.

Hurricane Floyd was the flood of record in 1999, followed by a smaller flood in October 2006. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was ranked fifth-highest.

Some possible explanations for the floods include consecutive weather events, fallen trees, encroachment from development, accumulation of silt in tributaries and reservoirs, or a combination of these.