Taming the Blanchard


Flooding has plagued the Blanchard River for years — destroying homes and businesses, raising insurance rates, depressing property values, and deterring regional growth and development. Weak planning has limited investment in the watershed.

The Blanchard has had five major floods in the past five years. People along the river have remarked for years how high it gets and how frequently it spills over, even after routine thunderstorms.

Unlike other area streams, the Blanchard’s bouts with flooding have become almost predictable. They will likely worsen if nothing is done, especially as climate change brings more intense and frequent storms.

Many of the hopes for Findlay, Ottawa, and other northwest Ohio communities affected by the river’s behavior lie with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has drawn as much controversy as praise for its water-management efforts. Ohio is second only to California for historic wetland losses, mostly in the northwest part of the state.

It’s not ideal to take on Mother Nature by rechanneling or diverting streams, elevating structures, redoing bridges, or trying to fend off floods with barriers. But much of this region’s ill-conceived development won’t be undone.

So it’s up to the corps to design a workable compromise to tame the Blanchard. But officials say it may not be done until 2014 or 2015, which a bipartisan congressional delegation finds unacceptable.

Ohio U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, along with Reps. Bob Latta and Jim Jordan, recently urged the corps to complete its report by the end of 2013. The corps has left no doubt that any remedy will be expensive.

In reports to area communities this week, it cited the need for at least $150 million worth of work, of which the federal government would pay 65 percent. That would not eliminate flooding, but would make it less frequent and less severe.

The federal budget crisis and the cost of cleaning up the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy could make the Blanchard River project a tough sell. But costs rise the longer a resolution is dragged out.

Some $100 million in damage occurred to Findlay and as much as $20 million to Ottawa from a Blanchard River flood in 2007. Hundreds of residents evacuated. Marathon Petroleum Corp., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and other employers suspended operations.

Water management and urban planning are buzzwords that bore a lot of people. Trying to grasp the cumulative effect of farm runoff, sewage overflows, and big, impervious parking lots on watersheds can cause eyes to glaze over.

But the Blanchard River is an example of why remediation is important, and why timely action is vital to the region.