Record flooding in the Manchester area this weekend caused the failure of the Lake Delhi Dam and the flooding of up to 300 homes around the lake. It also sent the Maquoketa River cascading toward the small downstream town of Hopkinton, prompting an evacuation.
Bob Galiher, a member of hte Lake Delhi Recreation Association board, stood near the dam as he talked with a reporter on Saturday afternoon. “I don’t know what to tell you. This roadway, and this is considered part of the dam, just gave away. Yep, we’re losing our lake, but there’s a lot of folks that are in big trouble, not just us,” Galiher said. “The water’s just having it’s way — that’s all there is to it.”
The dam has a cement spillway in the center and supporting earthen berms on each side. The road over the dam began collapsing around one o’clock Saturday afternoon as rushing water cut a 30-foot-wide swath on the south side. The road fell more than 40 feet into the Maquoketa River below, leaving a large gap between the dam and the other side of the river.
Lake Delhi is no longer a lake.
“What’s going to happen here is we have no way to control the water in Lake Delhi anymore. We’re going to have to rebuild this in order to have the lake back –that’s all there is to it,” Galiher said Saturday.
Residents in the area had enough warning to remove some possessions and get to higher ground, but with record river levels, it was hard to predict just exactly what was going to happen when an engineer who monitors the dam issued an alert Saturday morning, at 6:45.
Dave Fink is one of the Lake Delhi residents who lost his home. “When the water started coming over the roadway and it started eating out on the tail-water side — we started losing trees and riprap — then we knew that we were going to have a breach here,” Fink said. “We knew by nine o’clock for sure that something was going to happen and we alerted everybody downstream. We worked great with the Delhi Fire Department along with Hopkinton Fire Department and Monticello and Delaware and Jones County Emergency Management, so we really had a jump on things for the evacuation. We owe a lot of people thanks for working on that.”
Fink said about 14 feet of water flooded his home. About nine cabins or trailers along the shoreline near the Lake Delhi Dam were washed away as the riverbank broke off. A newly-constructed, hoop-style Delaware County maintenance shed fell into the water. Several L.P. tanks ended up in the dam, causing a couple of small explosions. One tank was still rotating in the dam Saturday night, causing a low rumbling noise and giving off a gassy smell.
Officials estimate hundreds of boats were lost in the floodwaters and up to 300 homes around Lake Delhi were damaged in some way. During the summer weekends, there are around 900 homes occupied at Lake Delhi; about 25 percent of the homes are for year-round residents.
The lake is community-owned and that’s what makes the devastation especially heartbreaking for Galiher. “We’re happy so many people have some concern for us,” Galiher said. “We had a beautiful place here and we’re going to get it back that way.”
Fink said work had been scheduled to install new lifting mechanisms on the dam’s gates. “We really had plans for the future here and now this is a major set-back for us,” Fink said. “Thank God that somebody wasn’t killed in all of this.”
Governor Culver toured the Lake Delhi area Saturday, as well as the downstream towns of Hopkinton and Monticello. “The good news is that we were able to get people out of harm’s way in terms of any loss of life or serious injury,” Culver said Saturday. “Obviously it’s a sad situation for everyone impacted. And to know we’re going to lose that lake at Delhi and all the homes and businesses between Delhi and Monticello — and farms. You know, it’s just sad and here we go again. You know, we’ve been through this but it’s been amazing to see everyone rally and come together and do what they can to pitch in and help out.”
A few miles downstream, the small town of Hopkinton was bracing for the worst. There was massive flooding, though it wasn’t as bad as predicted. Hopkinton Fire Chief Craig Wilson said they sounded the sirens to warn residents. “We really didn’t know what to expect at first,” Wilson said. “You know, they were telling us it could go clear to Highway 38, so we evacuated probably half of the town.”
About five homes were under water in Hopkinton Saturday.
Upstream in the town of Manchester there was record flooding. According to the National Weather Service, the Maquoketa River crested at an unprecedented 24.4 feet early Saturday afternoon in Manchester. That’s three feet above the record set in 2004. The flood waters surrounded several homes along South Tama Street in Manchester and caused a couple of basements to cave in as the river rushed in from the backyards. JoAnn Wilson was watching the water come up to her front steps Saturday.
“Water, water everywhere. It’s sad. Our neighbors have lost their basements in homes. So far we’re in very good shape compared to them. We can count our blessings on this side of the street,” Wilson said of the flooding. “This is our first time and I hope it’s the last.”
Wilson said she saw the community come together in Manchester. “Nobody got hurt. Everybody is healthy — they’re not happy, but they’re healthy,” Wilson said, with a laugh. “And we’re taking care of each other and that’s just the way it works.”
West Main Street in Manchester was blocked off as the Maquoketa River rushed through the streets and surrounded businesses. The water reached as high as the drive-up window at Burger King and covered the Exit and Entrance signs at the Hardees.
(Reporting by Janelle Tucker, KMCH, Manchester)