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Wooster Digital History Project

The Flood and the Future

However, safety would take a different form than many had probably envisioned in 1969. For much of the twentieth century, the popular image of flood control was a system of human-constructed dikes, dams, and reservoirs to tame massive watersheds near large amounts of people1. The Killbuck Creek Watershed, as both the 1984 plan and engineers in 1969 observed, was neither of these.

In other words, the Killbuck wouldn’t be “tamed”. There would be no dams or reservoirs. In fact, the USDA's Soil Conservation Service, the agency conducting the final studies in 1982 and 1984, found that “structural flood control” methods -- altered bridges, rechanneled streams and dams -- were entirely infeasible2.

Instead, the final recommendation advocated “non-structural” flood-proofing methods for use in urban areas. Temporary flood shielding, blocked off basement windows and a single low earth dike were recommended for businesses, residences, and industrial buildings around Wayne County.

For agricultural areas, the report left little confidence that flood control would be possible. Instead, it called for contour farming and conservation tillage in order to reduce soil erosion to floods when they did occur3.

The clear focus was on modifying land use, not on ‘controlling’ the stream. This matched the flood control experience into the late twentieth century. While reservoirs and dams had reduced floods, they also caused a false sense of security to surround living in flood-prone areas -- leading to increased flood damages and costs to the sensitive environment of flood plains. As more and more people moved into urban areas and flood plains became more in demand, policymakers sought to avoid this as much as possible4.

Today, there remains no sure-fire way to prevent flooding along the Killbuck Creek. The recommendations of the 1984 assessment -- if they were followed entirely -- were estimated to only reduce annual damages from flooding by $23,300 -- a 16% reduction5. By comparison, the improvements in the Muskingum Basin south of Wooster prevented $58,907 worth of damage in the July 1969 flood alone6.

Instead, numerous organizations try to help farmers, businesses, and residents of Wayne County deal with flooding. The Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District provides technical assistance to properties with flood control schemes, helps to remove logjams and icejams that could create flooding, and educates the community about conservation practices7. Wayne County and the City of Wooster both maintain flood plain regulations that limit or outright restrict development to protect both landowners and the environment. The Wayne County Emergency Management Agency, located at the Justice Center, maintains a close watch on flood conditions and could provide rescue assistance if needed.

Through recovery, rememberance, community action, and prevention, the residents of Wooster successfully turned devastation into hope that a disaster as tragic as the 1969 flood would never happen again.


1- James M. Wright, “The Nation’s Responses To Flood Disasters: A Historical Account," Association of State Floodplain Managers, April 2000,
2- USDA Soil Conservation Service, “Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment for Upper Killbuck Creek Watershed,” September 1984
3- Ibid.
4-Wright, “The Nation’s Responses To Flood Disasters,"
5- USDA Soil Conservation Service, “Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment for Upper Killbuck Creek Watershed,” September 1984
6- U.S. House of Representatives, "Ohio Storm Damage Inspection: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Flood Control of the Committee on Public Works," Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970, p. 246.
7- Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, "Providing Assistance for You! (brochure)," Wooster, OH.