Cottrel: Historic flood planning key for Dayton, Springfield region

While local flooding can be a nuisance, it’s nothing compared to Cotrell’s hometown of Findlay — thanks to planning in the Dayton region years ago.

Last weekend, we personally saw the terrible flooding in Findlay, two hours north of here.

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Since I grew up in the flat farm lands of the Findlay area, I’m familiar with flooded fields after a big storm and creeks that jump their banks. Kids who grow up in Hancock County know all about mud. I was saddened to see how repeated flooding has altered the middle of the beautiful town I remember.

The flooding wasn’t this extreme when I was young, but the miles of development to the east of Findlay have paved over much of the wooded land that once delayed rainwater runoff. In the farms the field tiling is efficient and the ditches are deeper. Both quickly move the rainwater into Eagle Creek and the Blanchard River. Both streams rise more quickly and higher now. The downtown area and homes along the river too frequently bear the invasion of the swirling chocolate waters. Flooding is now seen where it has never been seen before in local memory.

Along the river, many buildings that were more than a century old have been torn down. Favorite restaurants and stores are gone. My childhood haunt, the old library, was flooded and destroyed years ago with the loss of many books, I heard. The new library is lovely, but I did love the old classic building. The place where Fort Findlay once stood is now surrounded by empty lots and foundations. It is sad.

All agree that a solution to the increased flooding must be found, but each suggested plan runs against opposition. The land that could have been used for traditional flood abatement is now developed and the choices are very difficult.

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More than once last weekend I found myself thanking God that the Springfield area doesn’t face flooding like this anymore.

There is a good reason for that.

Back in 1913 when that huge legendary flood nearly washed Dayton off the map, the community agreed that something had to be done.

That something was the Miami Conservancy District. I’d read about this in various sources over the years, but when we got home I looked it up.

The person who spearheaded the effort was John H. Patterson. In 1913, NCR President Patterson was one of the first to respond to the Dayton floods by shutting down normal production in his factory and having his employees build boats to rescue people. Thousands of homeless people took refuge in his factory.

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After the flood, Patterson and other community leaders got Governor James Cox, who was from Dayton and the founder of Cox Publishing, to convince the state to allow conservancy districts. The Miami Conservancy District was the first to be formed.

An engineering genius named Arthur Morgan was hired to design a system of dry dams that would divert the flood waters into designated low areas. The retention areas would be dry until the gates of the dams needed to be shut to keep excess rain water from becoming flood waters. The results are some beautiful parks along the Great Miami, Still Water, and Mad rivers.

Morgan’s plan also included levies along low river banks that were prone to flood, flood gates on drainage pipes and sewers. Some parts of the rivers were also re-channeled.

These dams were built with money raised by the people who wanted the floods to stop — and these huge structures were built all at the same time and completed within less than 10 years of the original great flood.

That alone is amazing to me.

To create one of these retention areas, the town of Osborn — which was partially located in the far western corner of Clark County and northern Greene County — had to be moved, lock stock and barrel. It was relocated next to Fairfield, and a few decades later the two towns became Fairborn.

Since its completion in 1922, the flood control structures of the MCD have had to retain excessive water nearly 2000 times to protect the city. Good planning pays off.

This plan wasn’t perfect, but over the years adjustments and improvements have been made.

In the late 1960s, C. J. Brown Reservoir and Dam was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to limit the amount of water flowing down Buck Creek and through Springfield during heavy rainy seasons.

Yes, we still do have some localized flooding. Enon experienced some of that recently during a huge deluge, but for the most part flooding is something that is limited and goes down quickly. (However, that fact doesn’t make it any less aggravating if it is your basement that flooded). The Miami Conservancy District continues to monitor and protect the entire Miami River drainage in many different ways. Visit to learn a lot more. I promise you will find this fascinating. I got so sidetracked reading it, I’m late with this column.

After seeing the devastation in the heart of Findlay, I am so grateful Springfield and Dayton have been spared such destruction by the foresight of a group of individuals in 1913 who said “enough” and “never again.”

I’m thankful our major flooding issues were solved long ago and I hope Findlay finds ways to get their flooding under control soon. It is too pretty of a city to let this continue.

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