Floodwater damage from late March storms in Ellis County, Texas, could have been $2.2 million worse, according to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“While county roads, bridges, and farmland were hardest hit by these storms, things could have been a lot worse had it not been for 72 floodwater-retarding structures located within the Chambers Creek Watershed in Ellis County,” says Monty Gearner, NRCS district conservationist for Ellis County.

“Based on my initial visit, these dams performed as designed, with little damage to the auxiliary spillways.”

A series of dams, or floodwater-retarding structures, strategically placed within the county to control rainfall runoff and protect areas downstream, were tested March 29-30 when portions of Ellis County received up to 16 inches of rain, according to statistics from the National Weather Service.

The hardest hit area of the county is protected by 38 dams, built as many as 50 years ago through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program by Ellis-Prairie Soil and Water Conservation District and Ellis County (local sponsors), with assistance from NRCS.

The structures temporarily stored floodwater runoff and spared much of the county from additional flood damage. According to NRCS, they reduced flood damages by about $2.2 million during the two-day storm event.

In the city of Waxahachie, only minor flooding was reported along Waxahachie Creek, due in large part to the presence of 17 dams located above Waxahachie on tributaries to Waxahachie Creek.

The program was first conceived in the 1930s, when Congress began looking at ways to complement existing downstream flood control programs. Since that time, NRCS has assisted local watershed sponsors in the construction of nearly 2,000 floodwater-retarding structures across Texas.

Tom Sulak, watershed technician for the Ellis County Department of Development, says,”It takes events like these storms to teach us that our predecessors really did know what they were doing.

“The dams, even though designed 50-plus years ago, still maintain 100 percent of their flood storage capacity. This past week, I visited with several homeowners living next to floodwater-retarding structures, and many were impressed by how well the lake’s dams and spillways were engineered.”

Ellis County encompasses 952 square miles, and 244 square miles are controlled by floodwater retarding structures, according to Steve Bednarz, NRCS assistant state conservationist for water resources.

“These types of rains point out the importance of proper maintenance to keep the structures operational,” Gearner says. “The fact that all structures functioned as planned can also be attributed to the ongoing maintenance efforts of the local sponsors, the Ellis-Prairie Soil and Water Conservation District, and Ellis County.”