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Area residents encouraged to attend watershed meeting
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 The second in a series of three meetings about a federal plan to better map and understand the multi-county Cow Creek Watershed takes place Hoisington Wednesday morning, and Barton County Engineer Clark Rusco is encouraging anyone with a tie to the area plan to attend.
“We want to lower the risk of flooding in Barton County,” Rusco said. This is the purpose behind the Federal Emergency Management Administration program.
The first will be at 4 p.m. Today in the Hutchinson City Council chambers, the second at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Hoisington Activity Center and the final one will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Celebration Center in Lyons. The meetings are sponsored by the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Water Authority.
Rusco, speaking at the Barton County Commission meeting Monday morning, referred to FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) program. The program is in the discovery phase of tracking the watershed, which includes several creeks and takes in part of four counties.
The Cow Creek area stretches from near Otis east to Hutchinson, and from Ellsworth south to Hoisington, and includes Little Cheyenne Blood and Deception creeks. Great Bend and Ellinwood don’t fall into the watershed, but Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area does.
It is crucial those who live in the watershed be involved in this discovery phase, Rusco said. If there is enough need shown, they FEMA and other federal money will be available to help pay for mitigation work.
The engineer said the county already has a flood mitigation plan that was developed a few years ago, but this will augment that. It will use current technology, and include topography, satellite imagery, elevations and hydrology figures.
“We need some updated studies,” he said. He believes input received from watershed residents at the meetings will show the need for this and more action to be taken.
Over the course of the next several years, the goal will be to come up with plan to reduce the impact of flooding in the watershed, Rusco said. There could be federal money available to cover at least part of cost for any work that is done.
“This is a pretty large task,” he said of the effort. This is about the eighth watershed in Kansas considered.
Inclusion in the program is not certain, Rusco said. If the watershed is selected, FEMA could provide money, but there would be no regulatory mandated actions.
According to information from FEMA, meeting objectives are to:
• Facilitate communication among the communities with areas of influence within the watershed.
• Review  what available  data and  share stakeholders’ input regarding flood risk in the watershed.    
• Determine  whether  a  flood  risk  project  is necessary and appropriate.
• Bring officials and other stakeholders together to promote a better understanding of flood risk in the watershed.
• Discuss Hazard Mitigation Plans, how they can be enhanced with RiskMAP.
• Discuss the most effective tools available and successful methods to communicate flood risk to the public, and the relevance of those risks.
• Discuss possible flood risk project scope.
Rusco spoke to the commission after recently attending the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md. Topics discussed included the Risk MAP and where local partners fit in, timeline and key elements of the process, flood risk communications, watershed strategy, mitigation planning and available grants.