SURVIVE THE STORM: Restoring Jordan Creek to natural state may be only way to prevent downtown flooding

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) - Springfield was hit with massive rain storms in March 2016. The corner of Chestnut Expressway at National Avenue near downtown was ground zero for some of the worst flooding of the season.

"It doesn't happen very often but this area is in the flood plain," said city engineer Chris Dunnaway.

"When they talk about flash floods, it's the real deal. It comes up in a matter of seconds and you're done," said business owner Thomas Douglas.

Dunnaway agrees.

"Crazy amount of rainfall in such a short period of time," he said.

"Straight across National, through the Kum & Go parking lot, and hits us. It's a river straight across," said Douglas, recalling when almost six inches of rain fell on the night of March 13, 2016.

The flooding destroyed cars, businesses and homes near downtown Springfield.

"When Jordan Creek ran over the banks, it was all over," said Douglas.

His technology company took a major hit.

"We had anywhere between one inch and eight inches of water, depending on where it was," he said.,

Beneath the floor of his company's office lies hundreds of feet of computer cable. They power each work station. Without them, his company cannot provide the information technology support to their clients.

"You don't expect that it's ever going to be an issue," he said.

Thousands of dollars worth of cable had to be removed and destroyed. Luckily, all of the company's computer servers sit five feet above ground and well away from any water.

"You plan for it but you just never want it to actually occur or think that it will," said Douglas.

He took us out to the parking lot to reflect on what he saw the day after the creek flooded the area.

"The water was up above this concrete. It actually made it up into these buildings," he said.

The businesses to which he referred sit on a concrete foundation at least a few feet above ground level. But that wasn't the only major damage for the businesses in the area.

"Everything, all the way down throughout the whole parking lot, was toast that day. We lost 13 vehicles," Douglas said.

He says there was little time to save anything once the rushing water came in.

"It did come up that quickly for us. Once it breaks the top of the natural waterways that are there, it's all over," he said.

Dunnaway says the area has a long history of flooding.

"A century ago, I think it was in the early 1900s, maybe around in the '20s, is when they put the creek underground in a big box culvert," he said.

Photos obtained from the History Museum on the Square in Springfield, taken nearly 100 years ago, show Jordan Creek taking over the downtown area. Some historians call this event the flood of 1909. Water from the banks of the creek nearly reached the federal building on what is now John Q. Hammons Parkway at St. Louis Street. The flood water took down trees, pushing them, along with other debris, towards businesses on Boonville Avenue.

Back then, city engineers thought forcing the creek underground would be a way to control flooding.

"Thought that would contain and it obviously it doesn't, not even close. Trying to put that all underground, it's just not possible," said Dunnaway.

He says restoring the creek to its natural state, so it can handle heavy rains, is likely the only way to prevent floods.

"It would take basically 20 years of just funding this, which obviously wouldn't allow for any other improvements around town, which really isn't probably the most responsible thing to do," he said.

"We learned the hard way not to mess with Mother Nature," said Douglas.

Storm water improvements were made near Cooper Park off Pythian Street last year. The watershed area was expanded by 800 acres. Dunnaway says that's hardly enough space to absorb water for space that's more than eight miles. It only puts a dent on the amount of water that will flow down creek towards National. The city estimates the area will see five percent less water should another flood occur.

There are four more storm water improvements planned in areas that could relieve flooding throughout Springfield.

Black and white mounted photo of the Springfield Wagon Co., Phelps Ave. east of Washington St., flooded by the Jordan Creek.