Couple watch Clear Lake take over their home

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Stacy Vogel
Monday, July 13, 2009
— You name it, Bob and Sharon Schrank have tried it.

They've called a microbiologist, a geotechnical engineer and county, state and federal government officials in an effort to stop the water that has been flowing into their basement for the last year.

Nothing has worked.

"We can't get the water to stop," Sharon said.

Now, they're worried about losing the home on the shore of Clear Lake that has been in the family for more than 100 years.

Clear Lake in Milton Township has gone up more than 7 1/2 feet in the last year and a half, starting as 2008's record-setting snowfalls melted and continuing with the historic rainfalls of last summer.

The lake is spring-fed and has no natural outlet, so there's nowhere for the water to go unless it evaporates.

Several homes on the lake are surrounded by water, though they're all vacation residences. More than a hundred trees are now in the water and probably will die, said Jonathan Roe, president of the Clear Lake Improvement Association.

But the Schranks might be the hardest hit of all as the water, little by little, takes up their yard and home.

The home sits on a gentle incline to the lake, unlike most of the lots that have steeper inclines. The water has come onto about 50 feet of their property, covering their dock and a beach volleyball area. They routinely watch people fish in their front yard.

Water has gushed into the basement for more than a year because the water table is so high.

Libby Plumbing & Heating, Janesville, allows the family to use pumps rent-free. The pumps push out 20,000 gallons of water a day, but Sharon constantly worries a timer might be off, provoking a flood that would ruin more of their belongings.

"It's like around-the-clock, constant stress," Sharon said.

The family raised its furnace but hasn't been able to hook up the air conditioner, making the humidity in the house still worse. An expert showed Sharon how to pack up photos and memorabilia to keep them safe.

The couple have discovered mold in closets and crawl spaces. Sharon and two of their adult children have asthma, and they have to take extra medication to keep their airways clear.

Meanwhile, the lake continues to rise and the water continues to come in.

There doesn't seem to be much anyone can do about the rising level of Clear Lake, Roe said. The Clear Lake Improvement Association is waiting to hear about a grant to help pay for a computer model of the lake, but even if it gets the grant, the association would have to kick in $10,000óno small amount for a group of 20 to 25 homeowners, Roe said.

And that would only diagnose the problem, not solve it. Pumping water out of the lake would be astronomically expensive and might not fix anything, he said.

"People are hoping it's a cycle and that it will go back down," he said.

The Schranks might not be able to wait that long. It's becoming more clear every day that they might lose their house, Sharon said. They have boxes piled near the front door for the day they hope never comes.

"(The house) has been in the family for generations," Sharon said. "It's so hard to give it up."

Worse still, the couple might not get anything for the house if they have to leave. They have flood insurance, but their situation isn't considered a flood because the house isn't surrounded by water. They're hoping to receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but nothing has come through yet.

"We could have a tornado come through and blow the house away, and insurance would cover everything," Bob said. "This is like a slow, lingering death, and we get nothing."

Meanwhile, they focus on what they do have: friends and family, their health and jobs they love, teaching in the Janesville School District, Sharon said.

"We try to count our blessings," she said.

Last updated: 10:57 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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