Janesville41.1°

High groundwater levels complicate life in a Janesville neighborhood

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Catherine W. Idzerda
November 2, 2009
— In the Rich and Kay Deeney home, the sump pump has been running around the clock since January 2008.

Or rather, the sump pumps, plural.


The family has gone through four of them.


Just down the street, Thomas Roan goes down into the basement Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to push the water down the drain. He then uses a shop vac to clean up the rest.


Across the street from the Roans, the sound of water pouring out of two pipes into the street serenades the neighbors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Welcome to the Putnam Street neighborhood, where the 2008 flood is still a painful reality. Putnam Street comes off Delavan Drive. It is about two blocks from Dawson Field.


"I haven't had flooding in the 20 years I've lived here," said Roan. "Now it's all the time. The only advantage is when I need to wash my car, I can fill up my bucket from the other side of the street."


Rich Deeney said when some neighbors had to cut concrete, a process that uses a lot of water, they used his pipes.


Everyone would like to know what's going on—and what can be done to fix the problem.


Unfortunately, the problem is 3,500-square miles big and out of anyone's control.


The Deeneys bought their house in the early '90s for $32,000. It's a charming little house, with arched doorways and old-fashioned cabinets in the kitchen.


Kay Deeney is on disability, due to a reoccurrence of cancer, and Rich is working at the John Deere warehouse.


Soon after they moved in, they realized that the basement had a problem with water. At one point, they got a low-interest loan to help them make the repairs.


"Things have been pretty good," Rich Deeney said. "We've had minimal problems."


Then, in January 2008, a severe thunderstorm hit Janesville, and the Rock River, already dammed with ice, flooded.


The Deeneys bought their first sump pump.


Of course, the ice dams of winter were followed by record flooding the next summer.


The Deeneys raised everything up off the basement floor and kept pumping. The water damaged the water heater, and the furnace had to be serviced twice due to water damage.


The pumps have been running since then and the basement has acquired a permanent odor of dampness. As part of her housekeeping routine, Kay Deeney dons a mask, arms herself with a bottle of bleach and does battle with mold.


City of Janesville engineers have come to look at the problem.


"They've had meetings about it, I know they've worked on it," Rick Deeney said. "Finally the guy came back and said, ‘I'm really sorry Richard, I really wish we could help you, but there's nothing we can do.'"


It's not city water in the basement. It's not a broken water main.


They've checked.


It's groundwater.


The 3,500 square-mile problem

The Rock River Basin is 3,500 square miles.


That means all the water in that area, which includes the Madison lakes and the Horicon Marsh, flows into the Rock River.


Rain and snow have recharged the groundwater—and then some.


"Last year, the whole southern half of the state got saturated," said Dan Lynch, city of Janesville utility director.


It's not just the flood of 2008 or the snows of the 2007-08 winter.


In August of 2007, the area saw record rains, said Larry Buetzer, senior engineer for the city of Janesville.


The summer of 2009, the river flooded, too, just not as dramatically.


"We've got monitoring wells around the landfill that are 5- to 6-feet higher than they usually are," said Lynch.


The wastewater treatment plant has been running an average of 12 million gallons a day. That's down from 18.5 million gallons a day in 2008, but still two or three times the normal amount.


In other words, there's more water everywhere.


"You can't do anything about the level of the groundwater," Buetzer said.


The Deeneys are worried about losing their home, and they are worried about keeping up with the utility bills and the damage in the basement.


For the Deeneys, a fix would involve raising their home up "three or four bricks" and major work in the basement.


It would also cost $32,000, or 89 percent of the purchase price of their home.


"We just can't afford it," Rich Deeney said.



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