Barry Co. approves $500K for Crooked Lake flood fix

Barry County

HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — Homeowners dealing with flooding from Barry County’s Crooked Lake will soon see relief.

The county’s board of commissioners Monday unanimously approved the drain commissioner’s request for $500,000 in emergency funding to address the issue.

Residents packed the board room in Hastings to hear about the course of action. 

Paul Yelsma, who has lived along the lake for 39 years, is among those ready for results. 

Despite the constant battle to keep his yard from becoming part of Crooked Lake, which has already crept into his basement, Yelsma is taking the chronic flooding in stride.

“Am I frustrated? A little bit,” he said. “But am I willing to admit to that and say the frustration’s getting me down and I want to throw my hands up? No. I’m going to solve the problem and move forward.”

The short-term plan calls for pumping water through private irrigation systems onto farm land and other drainage areas, reducing the lake by more than 300 million gallons by Labor Day. That would drop lake levels by about a foot, which drain officials say should be enough to prevent homes from flooding.

“I would still probably have sand bags just in case we got big rain, but still – this is a lot of water we’re talking about. Just on Upper Crooked Lake alone – 20 million gallons. That’s a lot of water. Two lakes combined, one inch is 32 million gallons,” said drain commission engineer Brian Cenci.

Cenci said his long-term recommendation is to create an outlet that drains Crooked Lake into another watershed.

“Ultimately, we want to use gravity and not be pumping,” said Cenci.

However, he cautioned a solution hasn’t been finalized.

“We don’t have which option or what the long-term solution will be. Our efforts have been focused on short-term. But I’ve always said, normal drain projects take time. (They) take two, three, four years, because they involve private landowners and involve easements and right of way permits and stuff,” he explained.

Engineers have described Crooked Lake as a big bathtub with no drain. The local watershed drains into the lake, but the water has no place to go.

The drain commissioner said in May 2017, a two-foot culvert and steel plate were installed to create a five-inch drain in Crooked Lake, aimed at preventing erosion, flooding and maintaining lake levels.

However, he said somebody tampered with the drain in spring, opening it up a little more than the county intended. 

Barry County has since installed a new plate buried deeper in the ground with a padlock on it, which had a 9 square-inch drain. The drain commissioner said about three weeks ago, their department placed a wood plate over that drain.

“We didn’t believe that was causing the issue but to be safe than sorry, Brian said this guarantees that we know that ain’t the problem,” Barry County Drain Commissioner Jim Dull said. 

Drainage officials believe seven inches of rain that fell on the area in May combined with record flooding in late March played a role in the rising waters, along with higher ground water levels.

“This is like most drain issues. It’s not one finger you can point at and say, ‘This is why, or this is why.’ And everyone wants to do that,” said Cenci.

Barry County opened sandbagging sites last month for homeowners.

“While Crooked Lake did not rise to the levels of declaring an emergency, we still brought our team together like it was. When I heard that there were senior citizens driving their sedan across the county to fill sandbags, spending time out in the hot sun loading them, that to me was the sign the county government needed to step in and do something,” said Barry County Board Chairman Ben Geiger.

The county said it would deactivate the emergency operations center once the lake level drops.

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