Indiana Farmers Seek More Flood Control for Kankakee River

July 25, 2008

A group of northwestern Indiana farmers who say some of their cropland flooded this spring because state officials failed to repair a breached river bank are pushing for more local control over the region’s flood-prone waterways.

Members of Farmers for a Flood-Free Kankakee led a tour on Wednesday, July 23 of the problem areas along the Kankakee River. The tour’s backdrop was the Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area preserve about 40 miles southeast of Gary.

Dick Welsh, a spokesman for the farmers from a four-county area, recounted how he and others learned in March of a breach in the nearby Yellow River’s bank.

He said the state Department of Natural Resources did not repair the break, instead allowing the Yellow River to flood the preserve, eventually causing a break in the Kankakee River levee that flooded some farmers’ fields.

“We need to gain local control for during emergencies,” Welsh said.

Flooding in the Kankakee River basin, a region once covered by a vast swamp drained in the late 19th century, has been particularly hard on farmers in Starke and LaPorte counties.

North Judson farmer Barbara Patterson said the flooding that followed this spring’s levee breach kept her fields covered for so long she said she nearly didn’t get her crops planted.

Flooding elsewhere along the Kankakee, particularly in the communities of Sumava Resorts and Shelby, frequently causes problems for area property owners.

Patterson said the state needs to step up its efforts to maintain the region’s waterways.

“We are used to maintaining our own tributaries. I spend $25,000 a year _ at least _ to clean our ditches,” she said.

Welsh cited as an example of government’s slow pace on maintenance issues a logjam on the Kankakee that had been slated for removal in December 2004 by three county drainage boards.

State and federal obstacles stalled that plan and the log-removal was not completed until this year, he said.

The Kankakee River Basin Commission has lobbied state lawmakers with little success for river basin maintenance funds.

Commission Director Jody Melton said last month that unless homes are at risk, state agencies don’t jump in to assist when agricultural land is flooded.

The Kankakee River basin covers more than 1.9 million acres and has a projected agricultural production revenue this year of $1.6 billion, according to the farmers group.

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