DARLINGTON (WKOW) — In mid-March, the water came and went, rising to the highest levels Darlington has seen since 1993. On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Tony Evers came to tour the damage in Lafayette County, but instead Darlington Police Chief Jason King said he wanted to show how they’ve been keeping the water out.
“Things could have been worse, but due to flood mitigation efforts through the years, we pretty much have a success story here,” he said.
King led Gov. Evers’ tour through downtown Darlington to show how, despite the river cresting close to 18 ft. — well above major flood level — almost every business on Main Street stayed dry.
“For the most part, damage is limited to city infrastructure, streets, parks that sorts of stuff and it’s not affecting as many businesses as it used to and it’s not affecting as many businesses as it used to,” King said.
The first step in the mitigation process was getting all of the businesses to higher ground within their buildings. Almost every entrance includes stairs from street level and King said that lower level is filled with concrete and gravel to prevent groundwater from seeping in. The next line of defense is stainless steel flood guards businesses can temporarily install to keep water out.
A block from the river, Mike Bolton, owner of the Corner Bar said the rising water persuaded him to put his guards to use.
“It’s the first time I put mine up,” he said. “The water came up so fast this time. It was quite surprising.”
Bolton said the guards held up and the high ground helped.
“If it weren’t for the flood mitigation, I would have a foot of water in the whole building so it would’ve been quite a mess,” he said.
Instead, Bolton said flooding only took away a day and a half of business and led to a three-hour cleanup.
“I fared well,” he said.
Despite the success his mitigation efforts have seen, King said he’s noticed a troubling pattern.
“We do flood here. It’s nothing new for Darlington but having three floods, moderate and major floods in only a period of 13 months, that is unique,” he said.
That’s why besides showing the governor what Darlington has done to cope, King and other Lafayette County officials wanted to start a discussion on how to prevent more of this in the future.
Gov. Evers heard suggestions like building a dam or raising the bridge but he made no promises about funding any potential projects. He said it’s important to consider long-term solutions for flood-prone communities like Darlington.
“The fact of the matter is these severe weather events are happening and they’re gonna continue to happen and we need to make sure that we’re going to think about this long term,” Gov. Evers said.