Twenty years after flooding that affected two-thirds of Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources said it has taken steps to address "the most costly lesson" of the 1993 spring and summer. Twelve-year-old Ryan Long from Woodstock, Ill., died when the car he was traveling in was swept off Highway 113 by an unstudied tributary of the Baraboo River.
"The mapping has gotten so much better," said Gary Heinrichs, who wrote the DNR's 81-page report at the end of 1993 on the lessons learned from the tragic floods. "Technology does make a difference. We can better map flood risk areas and we can provide better warnings, more warnings to folks in floodplain mapped areas."
For example, Heinrichs described past floodplain maps as "primitive, basically black lines on a white background." Now, the maps show structures, aerial images and elevation data through light detection and ranging technology. Plus, maps are provided electronically to counties which can update them as new developments arise or conditions on the ground change.
"People are moving to rivers and lakes and many of those are dangerous floodplain areas, so we have to be able to tell people where the dangerous areas are," Heinrichs said. "Floodplain mapping is critical.
"It gives people a lot more appreciation for the potential impact of the flooding if you're on the edge of the floodplain or if you're blocks and blocks into the floodplain. It really makes a difference when you're looking at those maps, judging those risks."
At least 4,700 homes were affected by the 1993 floods, causing more than $46 million in damages. Agricultural losses topped $800 million.
Despite recent efforts in Wisconsin to remap many areas that draw large populations, there remain thousands of unstudied floodplains, particularly in the northern part of the state.
"Because there's lower population there, smaller streams, it's less likely you're going to get mapping in those areas," Heinrichs said, citing lack of resources as the reason the state is not completely mapped.
The full 1993 DNR report can be found here.