“It’s going to take my house,” flooding from Northwest Arkansas’s Lake Elmdale causing worry among homeowners

State News

ELM SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA) — An Elm Springs homeowner says one more heavy rainfall could cause her to lose her home.

Renovations at Lake Elmdale are still delayed nearly eight years later, and people who live nearby wants answers.

Laura Downum has lived on her property in Elm Springs for 46 years.

Since building her home in 1973, Brush Creek has significantly widened in her backyard, causing significant damage.

It flows all the way from Lake Elmdale.

“At that time we weren’t in any type of flood plain or wetland. The creek was pretty far away, didn’t bother us,” she said. “The volume of water that goes through here is just terrifying. It surrounds my house life a raging river,” she said.

Two and a half years ago, her home completely flooded.

Downum lives alone, and spent over $70,000 to repair it, adding, “a month or two later, the premium came for the flood insurance and it was $2,800. It had risen so high, that I don’t think I can afford if it jumps like that again.”

“I’m not the only one. Everyone has flooding issues. But it’s going to take my house,” Downum said.

She fears that one more heavy rainfall could cause her home to flood again, and her flood insurance to continue to skyrocket.

Living “lean,” she compares herself to a college student, living with bare necessities and having to keep most of her belongings in containers, in case water seeps into her home.

“It’s kind of terrifying to have to live like that.”

Laura Downum

The floor in her home is left as cement.

Lake Elmdale has a history of dam leaks

Constructed in 1953, Lake Elmdale was built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Due to numerous dam leaks, a drawdown was begun in 1987 and Elmdale was finally drained in 1990 so repairs to the dam could be made. The project became a major renovation after the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission classified Lake Elmdale as a high-hazard dam. This resulted in more safety requirements than the original plans, and caused a number of delays in the project. Renovation began in the fall of 1992 and completed in the fall of 1993. This was a very expensive dam renovation with a price tag of 1.2 million dollars.

Fishery Management Plan, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Major flooding continued in 2011.

Another renovation of “water level control infrastructure” is now needed again.

It will cost an estimated $1 million.

A spokesperson for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says it has finished the engineering design on a new spillway, and construction could begin next year as funding becomes available.

The city is stepping in

Mayor Harold Douthit says Downum lives in a vulnerable spot, one of many homeowners along Brush Creek.

He points to other damage the water has caused in Elm Springs.

“About a mile long west of here the county just replaced a bridge on Brush Creek, totally wiped out the bridge,” Douthit said. “I don’t think it was ever built for a water retention or flood control lake but it has become that, and there’s no water control out of it now.”

Looking for concrete answers for the citizens of his city, he’s also looking for a helping hand, such as an engineer.

“I’m going to hold town hall meetings for people to come and put together a plan on how we can help this lady out,” he said.

As Downum nears retirement, she just wants to stay in the place she’s called home for decades.

“I don’t want to be homeless,” she said.

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