When a natural disaster such as a flood hits home, the effects are devastating—physically, mentally and emotionally. When faced with adversity, however, the human spirit reveals its true grit and fierce resilience. People power up. They join forces, link hands and work together to save what they love. This is the unparalleled power of collaborative effort. It proves that with planning and perseverance, a community doesn’t simply “survive” a natural disaster, they prevail over it.
Such is the story of the community of Lake Delton, Wisconsin.
From Disaster to Determination
On June 9, 2008, a deluge of over 12 inches of rain descended upon the popular lakeside community. Their pride and joy, Lake Delton, a 267-acre reservoir surrounded by hotels, homes, businesses, resorts and tourist attractions—overfilled the confines of County Highway A. Over 600 million gallons of water gushed over the top of the embankment, sending a torrent ripping through the roadway and demolishing a 300-foot wide by 700-foot long corridor along its path. In the blink of an eye, Lake Delton was gone. Vanished. What was once the Village’s idyllic centerpiece was now a quiet expanse of mud flats, shattered remnants of homes, tree limbs and debris.
In the aftermath, one might expect the affected community to sit idle, despondent. Not this one. What happened afterwards was nothing short of extraordinary. Action plans were swiftly set into motion and residents got to work restoring what had been lost—rebuilding businesses, organizing a “Clean the Lake Bottom” campaign, hosting benefits and collecting donations toward flood relief efforts.
Local, county, state and federal governments also quickly answered the call. Together with the governor’s office, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the DNR, regulatory agencies, engineers and disaster mitigation consultants, they worked tirelessly to draft a comprehensive flood recovery plan. The team continued to build, forming a unified powerhouse of contractors, subcontractors and construction crews that all agreed to rebuild and reinforce Lake Delton on an accelerated timeline and get the community back up and running by summer tourism season just one year later. It was an aggressive goal.
A project of this magnitude required an immense level of communication, teamwork and technical innovation. Experts across industries worked together to acquire funding, design solutions, address environmental needs, secure permits and get the physical work accomplished. The plan involved building a stronger Lake Delton embankment, replacing County Road A, upgrading the dam, sluiceway and spillways, boosting discharge capacity, improving water quality, updating transportation and utility links, rebuilding an existing fishery, enhancing the shoreline, repairing 25 other non-lake related sites, and of course—refilling beautiful Lake Delton itself.
Refilling a Lake, Revitalizing a Village
In an almost unimaginable feat, the next April found Lake Delton refilled to original capacity, all 600 million gallons of it. Not only that, it boasted fresh, crystal-clear water and better-than-ever fishing, having been restocked with the first batch of 9 million minnows and an abundance of walleye, large-mouth bass and pan fish. Exactly one year after the flood, on June 9, 2009, the Village officially celebrated with a “Welcome Back, Lake Delton” ceremony. The Tommy Bartlett acrobatic water skiing show returned to entertain visitors, resorts once again filled their reservation books and through it all, not a single one of the 21 businesses directly affected by the loss of the lake went out of business.
The vacation destination was re-opened. With a renewed spirit, it was ready to welcome back an average of 1.5 million visitors per year and recoup the collective $1 billion in area tourism revenue. More importantly, the improved dam infrastructure was now prepared to handle an event twice the size of the 2008 flood, a fact that restored community faith, security and hope—perhaps the most precious commodities of all.
Ten Years Later, Successes and Strategies
Just recently, June 9, 2018, marked the ten-year anniversary of the flooding of the community of Lake Delton. While we observe the tragedy with solemn regard, we also celebrate the truly momentous revival of this bustling, regional tourism community. MSA is proud to have played a role in their success, but more so—feels fortunate to have worked with such an incredible network of people in the process. The Lake Delton project now serves as a national model for disaster recovery effort.
Every community can learn from the Lake Delton flood and can be better prepared to prevail over natural disasters. Preparedness involves both risk assessment as well as strategic planning. It means performing a thorough evaluation to identify critical assets, weaknesses and risks in order to bolster infrastructure and counteract worst-case scenarios. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There is no better time to prepare than now.
Read more about how to minimize potential flood damage and assess critical infrastructure assets in your community here. For more information about MSA’s involvement in the Lake Delton project, contact John Langhans, PE, municipal engineering practice lead.