Lewis Unruh has spent his whole life living and working his farm in Peabody on 70th Street and Indigo. His father bought their farm before he married his mom in about 1950, and Unruh was born and raised there.
“My wife and I got married and the folks moved out to the house to the East on our property. So I’ve never been away. We do have 180 acres that we farm that has been in my family since 1902, but it’s about five miles northwest of here,” said Unruh.
His youngest son, Jason, helps Lewis out with farming.
Unruh’s dad was part of a group that gathered together in 1975 to create several watersheds around Peabody. While only five of the original fifteen planned have been built, they have served the community of Marion County in general and the town of Peabody specifically very well over the years.
“When the watershed district was formed in the early 1970’s, back then, all you needed was money and a design. Then you hired a contractor and away you went. The next one we are trying to build now (number 11 on the map), we’ve been working on for close to 20 years. There are so many permits and federal and environmental studies,” said Unruh.
But the watersheds that do exist helped out greatly recently after the big rain that Marion County had the weekend of June 21-23. They prevented an already disastrous event from being worse.
But many residents in Marion County don’t realize just what the watersheds do or even what they are.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, rivers and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays and the ocean. While watersheds vary in size, they all serve as a drainage basin or catchment for a specific area. The purpose of watersheds is to serve as fast lanes to keep excess water volume from overwhelming streams and rivers which would cause them to overflow and possible result in floods.
“Our dam collects water from the north because it has the finger to the North from the West, and then this creek that comes from the Southwest,” said Unruh.
Unruh’s watershed in particular (number 8 on the map), helped slow down the amount of water heading to the Doyle Creek river that runs through Peabody. This allowed for some of the water to dissipate through evaporation or soaking into the ground as well as slow down the volume of water.
“We have one on our property, but we farm below three others that are within a quarter to a half mile. So I rcan see the drastic difference between the creek channel only running full or less compared to here to the area to the West where the trash came up and the wheat and the corn is all laid down. That particular branch of our creek we haven’t been able to get any (watersheds) built over there,” said Unruh.Brian Lang, who is a Watershed Contracting Officer for the Doyle Creek area, shared some information on just how much the watersheds did for damage control.
“The Doyle Creek Watershed dams constructed with state funds provided the following benefits to the Peabody are as a result of the rainfall events on June 21 and 22. Actual rainfall amounts varied, but the benefits are based on a total of 9” of rainfall over the 32 hour period,” said Lang. “The five damns were constructed upstream of Peabody controlling 4311 acres of drainage area and detained approximately 1000 acre-feet of water that would have contributed to additional flooding around Peabody and reduced the water depth between 1-2 feet. The constructed sites reduced damages along Doyle Creek upstream and around Peabody by an estimated $151,000.”
Lang explained that there is still a plan to finish constructing the other watersheds planned by Unruh’s father and other men.
“The district has 3 planned sites to be constructed using federal funds that would have also reduced the flooding and provided additional benefits. Those sites include Sites 6, 10 and 11. They would have reduced damages from the storm by an estimated $72,000, $75,000 and $40,000 respectively. The three sites would have retained an additional 1400 acre-feet of water, lowering the water around Peabody an additional 2-3 feet,” said Lang.
The importance of watersheds became very clear when one considers that the $151,000 saved in damage cost was just from this single event.
“These are the estimated numbers from just this single storm event. The constructed sites also provide similar but smaller benefits during rainfall events in May,” said Lang.