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Lake Barney flooding and high groundwater impact locals as officials struggle to find solutions

FITCHBURG (WKOW) — After years of wet summers and snowy winters, Lake Barney on the border of Fitchburg and Oregon is growing. It’s usually about 30 acres wide but it’s expanded to 800 in the past few years, putting properties at risk.

Dane County’s Land and Water Resources Department said that’s because the water has no natural drainage source so the only place the water has to go is into the already saturated groundwater system.

The city of Fitchburg is considering a $1.43 million dollar plan over the next five years to research the issue and possible solutions.

Meanwhile, those who live near the lake, like John Brown, said problems have already begun.

He’s lived across from Swan Pond, in the town of Oregon, for 20 years. It’s supposed to be a small retention pond but now on its worst days, it’s almost big enough to meet the expanding Lake Barney, a mile and a half away.

That’s why Brown said recently, he’s had to grow hyper aware of the water around him. He’s even dug a hole in his yard to see how much wiggle room he has in his home.

“Let’s see, the water table is just about 13 inches below the ground,” he said checking with his yard stick.

Brown said it’s all because the water in the ground is rising just as quickly as the water across the street and with nowhere else to go, it’s been seeping into his basement for months.

“It should’ve never happened but it did,” he said. “If that never would have been dammed up and brought the water table up, we still might’ve had some problems but not a problem like this.”

Brown said he had to deal with feet of water flooding his basement from October to mid-Spring.

“We pumped water with two sump pumps 24 hours a day,” he said.

Ultimately, he had to fill in 36 inches of his basement with stone and cement to keep the water out.

“You used to be able to stand up in here,” he said.

Now his formerly eight-foot basement is about four feet high. Brown has to roll around on a small chair to move through rooms and there’s even less room for his appliances.

“We had to hang the furnace,” he said, ducking under the sideways device attached to the ceiling.

Most of his other appliances like the water heater and his washer and dryer had to go upstairs.

The entire project cost Brown roughly $20,000.

“That’s out of my pocket. I had to get new stuff, change the piping in here,” he said. “It was a lot of work.”

The 79-year-old said it would have cost more but he did most of the work himself.

According to Brown, it’s kept him dry so far and with little opportunity to move, it was worth the hassle. Still, he said the water should never have gotten that bad and if it gets much worse, he’s run out of room to fill.

“There’s heaven and there’s hell,” he said. “And it’s been hell.”

Fitchburg’s City Council voted on funding Tuesday night as a part of the city’s capital improvement plan, but officials say it will likely take years before any significant changes can be done regarding the lake level. That’s because there’s a mix of state, federal, city and village of Oregon land that could be impacted if the water is pumped anywhere else.

Officials say any long-term solution would have to include a partnership with many organizations including the DNR.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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