Motorists driving up and down Shelby’s Main Street on Sunday morning might have noticed something odd as the crossed the bridge over their oft-flooded Black Fork River. Two gentlemen in neon yellow rain coats stared intently over the north side of the bridge as they moved methodically from one side to the other, one of them gently holding a yellow nylon rope attached to something in the river. Their movements seemed odd, to be sure, but their work is potentially significant in an effort to better understand - and then control - the seasonal flooding of the Black Fork.
What were these two gentlemen up to on Sunday? They were using technology to measure water levels and current speed using a sophisticated Doppler radar device. Looking like a small three foot boat, the device uses a combination of radar and sonar to establish everything from depth and water velocity, to the amount of sediment in the water. They were there, according to staff member Sean Brown, to continue their joint effort with the city of Shelby to collect and analyze data that will help the city make the best possible decisions about how to best mitigate flooding concerns in the city of Shelby.
Contracted through the Black Fork Subdistrict, the U.S. Geological Survey team was collecting data for a HEC-RAS (Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System) study of approximately 10 miles of the Black Fork River, according to Shelby Mayor, Marilyn John. The HEC-RAS study will deliver a detailed computer model of the Black Fork in all different weather and volume conditions. The idea, according to John, is that engineering experts might have a factual, scientific model that may be used to recommend solid, financially sound decisions about how best to control flooding in the river.
The HEC-RAS study is expected to be completed by mid-2014, at which point an RFQ (request for qualifications) is scheduled be issued to engineering companies. The RFQ will be issued through the Muskingum Watershed District, the City of Shelby and other stakeholders. The goal, according to Mayor John, will be to learn what the selected engineering companies recommend to reduce the flood risk for the Black Fork and to gain a better understanding of the costs.
In the meantime, if you see two serious-looking gentlemen on the Black Fork bridge in downtown Shelby, don’t fret. What might look like a toy boat in the river is helping them conduct some serious research into how to keep downtown Shelby dry.