When flooding struck Elnora a year ago this week, there were about 750 people in the town. When the water receded and town council president Jerry Beck took a head count, there were about 40 fewer — the people weren’t the casualties, their homes were. Even National Guard troops, firefighters, Amish farmers and the town’s population itself could not fill enough sandbags — and they did manage to fill 10,000 of them — to keep water from overrunning this small town, which is split down the middle by State Road 57 and sliced into quadrants by railroad tracks at its north end. Beck has lived in and around Elnora since the late ’60s, serving at different times on the town board, on the school board and as fire chief.
Drive around the town with Beck and it’s clear the community is close-knit — he waves at everyone he meets and can tell the story of seemingly every home ravaged by water it couldn’t control a year ago.
But a year after the water made its way back from the farm fields of Elnora to the White River, Beck’s focus is on stopping the flooding from happening again. Pointing to a computer screen in his office, he said it’s a pressing concern, because it’s happening more often.
“The top ten in history,” Beck said, “Six of them has been since .”
The reason, he’s come to believe, is a changing floodplain in central Indiana, brought about by rapid development in and around Indianapolis, whose northern suburbs have ballooned in size in the last 20 years. David Knipe with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources division of Water says Beck may not be all wet.
“The existing floodplains are pretty much out of date,” Knipe said.
Knipe is currently heading up a project to modernize maps of the state’s floodplain, which he saidsorely need updating.
“The existing floodplain maps are anywhere from 25 to 30 years old in many cases, so it’s really a modernization project.”
Modernization, like water, can move at a trickle in places like Elnora, while there’s a torrent upstream in places like Hamilton County. Knipe said when he talks to city planners seeking to expand their towns, the questions he gets are not about how a city’s watershed will affect surrounding areas. In fact, he said, they’re quite the opposite.
“We do get some questions on occasion where a community is concerned about what’s going on upstream of them and how that’s going to impact the water coming down *on* them,” Knipe said. “But most of the local communites are more concerned about what’s going on in their community.”
Beck doesn’t begrudge success and growth in other areas, but he said it can have a deleterious effect on towns like his.
“It’s hard to get much attracted here,” he said. “When you have the threat of the flood and people see it everywhere — it’s on the internet. It makes you wonder where does it stop and where does some responsibility take place? Sometimes my big question that I ask myself is ‘Why do we pay for the better times from the building and the expansion and economic growth up there when it comes down through here and destroys farm land?’”
But just one year removed from the worst storms in recent memory, Beck marvels at what’s become commonplace: one home on the southern edge of town appears frozen in time — its white shingles now green with mold, the name of the family which once occupied it still etched in a wooden sign just outside the front door. A porch swing sits idle at the rear of the house. A garden hose snakes along the driveway past stone planters which are now sprouting, albeit with weeds.
“It seems like a year later it’s not thought of as much,” Beck said.
But Beck insists the town is going to have to think about it, or face the most dire of consequences.
“It’s really big picture, but I think someday it’s going to have to be addressed or someday this town may have to move.”