Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flood Worries on the Farm

Last August, we had a few days of on-and-off rain.  We had lots of squishy ground around the farm, but nothing unusual for wet weather.  We also have a brook that runs down Ragged Mountain, which separates the house, large barn, and chicken coop from the smaller sugar house/barn, pastures, garden, and forest. It was running fairly normally.  In fact, I wasn't very concerned about flooding because the town had recently completed a large project in which sections of the brook were redesigned in efforts to reduce flooding on several properties and roads and address environmental concerns.

When I was a kid, I remember the brook drying up in the summer, except for a few small trapped pools of water where we would catch frogs.  Now, thirty years later, it runs year-round with a good amount of water.  In addition, a new stream has formed across the meadow which drains into the main brook, creating even more volume and causing concerns about part of the pastureland turning into a marsh.  Somewhere up stream, the land must have changed to create this surge of constant water and new watercourse.

That fall day had started off with some rain but cleared by mid-morning.  Farm Baby was taking a nap so I decided to bring out some food scraps to the chickens.  I was shocked when I stepped outside the door.  The brook had hopped it's bank and I could visibly see the edge of the water inching across the grass, towards the nearby chicken coop.  The water was rushing so fast and violently that I was worried that, if it reached the coop, it could sweep it off it's fieldstone foundation and send my hens down the river.  So, I had to evacuate the chicken coop.  As I watched the water rise up through their enclosed run, I made trips back and forth with my hens in cat carriers, relocating them to a stall in the stable.

When all twenty chickens were safe, I grabbed my camera to take photos and a video.  This first picture is at the height of the flash flood; the building is our sugar shack/small barn and the opening between the bushes in the center is the bridge, which is under water.  The watermark on the barn was up to my knees and everything in the barn had floated to the left corner, including heavy tack boxes and rubber stall mats.  The second photo shows how it normally looks (minus the logs and sand washed down) within minutes of the flash flood receding.

The chicken coop is a few feet from the play set, near the slide.  The water level rose several feet above it's normal level; the second photo shows it's normal height in the brook.

 This is the bridge over to the barn, with a tree and lots of branches lodged under it.

And here is the video.  Look closely in front of the barn and you can see a big log floating down.  Luckily, the horse was not in his stall and I didn't have to try to get him out, but everything in the barn was soaked and wedged against one corner.

Last night, we got a lot of rain and the water level started rising and rushing furiously.  I kept checking on it and was nervous all night, but it never hopped the banks.  Just to be safe, we moved the sheep over to the large barn, but poor Burt was scared and didn't want to cross the bridge with the water rushing so noisily underneath.  Eventually, a bucket of sheep feed prompted him to race full-speed across the bridge.

My grandma, who lived here before us, was always concerned about floods.  She lived through the 1938 Hurricane, of which she gave me photos of houses with exterior walls torn off, so they looked like eerie dollhouses.  The 1955 Flood was even worse.  (A photo Main Street in nearby Winsted is below.)  In Riverton, the water in the Farmington River rose so fast and unexpectedly that people were trapped inside homes and businesses.  I have a photo of the famous Hitchcock Chair Factory which, I heard, flooded within minutes and workers were trapped on the second floor.  A rope was strung across the river to the Riverton Inn and workers actually inched across the rope, over the river, to safety.  Our farm borders the Inn, but is on higher ground so was not flooded by the river itself, but suffered from the brook flooding and a massive rockslide/mudslide which filled the farm and road with a thick layer, several feet high in some areas, of rocks and mud.  After the devastation, the village's roads and bridges were impassable (or altogether missing) and the National Guard brought in emergency supplies by helicopter, which were able to land in our meadow.

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