Flood forecasting gets boost from state

Published 2:17 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

FRANKLIN—A plan to help Franklin and other localities in the Chowan River Basin better predict river flooding has gotten a boost from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.

McDonnell will use money from an economic contingency fund — a flexible fund used to help Virginia localities — to fund an $80,000 match of federal funds for the installation of six new flow gauges as suggested by the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service, said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Douglas Domenech.

“The Corps did a study and thought the best thing we could do was provide warning gauges,” Domenech said.

Now it’s up to members of the Chowan River Basin, which includes Franklin, Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, Greensville County, Emporia, Sussex County and Surry County in Virginia, to approve annual funding of $6,915 each for maintenance and operation of the gauges, said Franklin City Manager Randy Martin.

The Franklin City Council will discuss the proposal at 7 p.m. Monday, April 9, during its regular meeting.

If the project is approved, Martin said, the state money would come to Franklin by June 20 on behalf of all of the member localities.

The gauges would be placed throughout the entire river basin but locally on the Blackwater River near Zuni and the Meherrin River near Branchville, Domenech said.

Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner thinks that the installation of the flow gauges and the upgrades to four rain gauges along the basin will improve the warning time for localities during flood situations.

“It will help them gauge what’s coming,” Turner said. “It’ll help with predictions. It won’t do anything to stop the flooding, but it’s a forecast tool.”

The project won’t affect the city’s plan to acquire Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for drop gates at culverts downtown, Martin said. He said the city hopes to hear more about that project by the end of the month.

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.

Hurricane Floyd produced the flood of record in 1999, swamping downtown Franklin. A smaller flood in October 2006 also covered part of downtown.