Marker commemorates high water levelPublished 11:38am Thursday, March 21, 2013
Over the years since the city was officially incorporated in 1834, the Coosa brought both prosperity and hardship to its residents and businesses.
In the past, flooding was the primary source of devastation delivered by the usually placid waterway, washing away bridges and inundating businesses and homes.
On Monday, the highest observed water level on the Coosa at Wetumpka since 1890 – when the National Weather Service (NWS) officially began keeping records – was commemorated with a ceremony during which a high water mark sign was unveiled.
The marker, located near the Old Calaboose beside the riverwalk on the river’s east bank, notes a crest of 57 feet 11 inches reached on April 8, 1938.
“This marker is a reminder of how flooding can and has affected our area,” said Eric Jones, Elmore County EMA director.
On hand for the brief ceremony were local city and county officials, as well as representatives from the NWS and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Jim Stefkovich, NWS meteorologist in charge from Calera, was among those in attendance.
“The river hasn’t reached major flood stage in this area since 1990,” said Stefkovich. “Typically you would have a flood about every four years and a major flood every 16 years.”
This week is Flood Safety Awareness Week, Stefkovich said, noting that the marker is a reminder of the deadliness of flooding.
“It is not just flooding from the river that’s a danger,” he said. “We want people to be aware of all kinds of flooding and flash flooding. Every year flooding leads to more deaths than any other kind of severe weather.
“This sign is not only a marker, but it should educate folks about how bad it can get.”
Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis said the last time the river rose into the streets of downtown Wetumpka was in 1979.
“I have photos of the 1938 flood that show boats in the streets,” he said. “In the building I own, there are water level marks that were made in the basement. But in 1938, the river came up to the window sills on the side of the building.”
Willis said flood control measures instituted by Alabama Power Company over the past few decades have eased the threat of flooding in the city.
“In the past, there was more fear of the river,” he said. “Now we look toward the river and embrace it. This marker is a reminder of where we don’t want to go again.”
Jones said the presence of a river gauge at Wetumpka is a boon to the area.
“We rely heavily on the National Weather Service for forecasts,” he said “It provides gauges to record river levels, and we’re fortunate to have a river gauge here. Our partnership is extremely important to us.”
While the nearly 58-foot water level recorded in 1938 had a dramatic impact on Wetumpka, the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction website of the NWS unofficially reports one higher mark. According to the site, the Coosa River at Wetumpka reached 61.7 feet on April 1, 1886.
“This marker is based on recorded floods from 1890 to the present,” said Stefkovich. “There was a flood crest recorded at 61.7 feet in 1886, but it was taken at a slightly different location than this one.”
The High Water Mark Sign Project began in 2006 as a way for the NWS, partnering with the USGS, to raise awareness of flood risk for communities which have experienced severe flooding.