Record rainfall – and the flooding that has followed – has stretched Bay County's utility services division to the limit.
At Tuesday's commission meeting, Utility Services Director Paul Lackemacher described efforts to battle Mother Nature and keep water out of homes on Deer Point Lake. "This rainfall event appears to have resulted in historical highs in both the creeks and the lake level... we've never seen this before," Lackemacher said. "We're just trying to get rid of whatever water we have as quickly as we can."
Lackemacher said more than three feet of rain has fallen on the Deer Point watershed since July 3, adding 187 billion gallons of water. The lake's drawdown gates have been at least partially open since late June and fully open since August 13, Lackemacher said.
Commissioners praised the efforts of county workers and expressed frustration with the unprecedented onslaught.
"You feel so helpless, you can't stop it," Commissioner Guy Tunnell said. "There's nothing we can do collectively to stop it [but] just hope and pray for the best."
Some citizens have demanded that gates along the dam be fully opened to allow excess water to flow into North Bay. But Lackemacher told commissioners the gates are intended to prevent saltwater intrusion and are not designed for flood control.
According to Lackemacher, crews have been removing trees and other debris from the gates in order to ensure water flows freely. He said the lake's level is normally maintained at 5' but the county has attempted to reduce it to 4.8' to offset heavy rain.
The director said there is so much debris in the water that it has caused problems at the water treatment plant. "This is probably as bad as we've ever seen the [water] as far as its chemical makeup [and] organic matter that's coming in," Lackemacher said. "We're basically pushing the limits of that treatment process... that plant was never designed to treat that kind of water."
Tunnell said he has fielded numerous calls from upset citizens. "A lady I talked to was talking about suing us and I said, 'well, you're going to have to take it to a much higher authority if you want to get some satisfaction out of this,'" Tunnell said.
Chairman George Gainer also asked for divine intervention. "We've prayed for rain here for ten years... now we need to pray a little bit for drier weather," Gainer said.