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'Our biggest fear': Lake Barney flooding becomes nightmare for landowners

Lake Barney floods homes and farm lands
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Lake Barney floods homes and farm lands

FITCHBURG, Wis. - Significant flooding from Lake Barney caused damage to homes and farmland surrounding the area.

In 2018, Lake Barney flooded for the first time since the 1950s, according to the City of Fitchburg.

"Lake Barney is a glacial kettle with no natural outlet, and under normal conditions, the lake drains via infiltration, evaporation, and evapotranspiration," Claudia Guy, an environmental engineer for the city of Fitchburg, said in an email.

Tom Thayer owns property that is significantly flooded from Lake Barney. 

"We managed to put the barriers up to protect the house, to protect the outbuildings and keep everything dry, but there is a cost to maintaining them," Thayer said. 

That cost to keep the water out is both physical and financial. Thayer said he has spent nearly $60,000 to protect what is left of his land.

"The system works great, but there's a maintenance issues. Basically, every morning I do my pump walk," Thayer said.

The resale value of his land has significantly decreased.

"We have a property that is virtually unsaleable because of the flooding," Thayer said.

John Brown would say the same about his home. 

"If we ever sell the house, it's taken the value of the house right down," Brown said.

Brown filled in over 3 feet of his basement because he couldn't keep the water out with two pumps. He couldn't move because his wife is unwell.

"We had no other choice," Brown said. "So I tried it, and it works."

There are multiple municipalities involved because of the location of Lake Barney. The lake is in Fitchburg.

Many projects have been identified to improve flooding concerns, according to Guy.

"Among those projects is a project to study Lake Barney, determine the best way to regulate lake levels without negatively impacting downstream communities, and construct an agreed upon design," Guy said in an email.

The Village of Oregon is looking to move a section of the Oregon Rotary Trail because of flooding. The public works director was unavailable for an interview, but in a voicemail he said this has been an ongoing matter for over a year but hopefully they see improvement over time. 

Chairperson Wayne Ave says the flooding from Lake Barney is not a problem for the Town of Oregon. However, Brown, who lives in the town, says he disagrees. 

"I mean, he better come and look at my house and better talk to me, because I have a problem." 

While the situation hasn't gotten worse, it also hasn't improved. These landowners are looking for a long-term solution before winter comes.

"Our biggest fear," Thayer said. "When the ground is frozen and a major rain event or even a major snow event that melts fast, mainly a major rain event on frozen ground, everything as far as you can see flows right back here to Lake Barney marsh area."

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