Case Study: The Importance of Flood Study Field Observations at Wolf Creek

By: Jim Demboski, P.E., Project Manager and Andy Long, Design Engineer, E.I.T.


“We have flooding problems.” It’s a phrase that makes everybody cringe and run for higher ground and rightfully so. Historically, humans have done anything from dredging, installing berms and levees, to installing large storage basins to prevent flooding, but how do we get to these solutions? We perform flood studies of course! The level of effort it takes to perform a flood study can vary significantly not only based on size, but complexity of the study area.

A preliminary flood study was performed on a small portion of the lower Pigeon and Wolf Creek Watersheds. Although the study area was only a small portion of the watershed it was particularly complex because it contained a reservoir, which main purpose is to supply drinking water to local communities.  It’s also a confluence that has back watering effects, and last but not least, a developed flood plain with restricted and complex flow paths and storage areas. After initially gathering more information about the study area and developing the hydraulic model, we knew that field observations were going to be important.

To give a little background, Wolf Creek is a 13.1-mile-long tributary of the Tuscarawas River, draining 77.6 square miles of land from numerous municipalities including Fairlawn, Medina, Barberton, Norton and Akron. In the 1930s, Wolf Creek and its tributaries, such as Pigeon Creek, Schocalog Run, Viers, Copley Frederick, Weinpert, Rousche, Black Pond, Bessemer, Infirmary, Hands Lateral and Frank, were deemed county ditches. Historically, these ditches have been deepened, widened, straightened, and maintained in an effort to offset the increased discharge volumes and rates that upstream urbanization has contributed to the watershed. The watershed frequently floods its surrounding communities from not only over topping banks, but also from backed up storm sewer systems.

pigeon-and-wolf-creek-watershedsPigeon and Wolf Creek Watersheds

To me, one of the great things about performing a flood study is that it provides a perfect balance between work and “play.” It’s a great opportunity to get into the field and enjoy nature. Not only was going in the field an enjoyable break from the number crunching, it was a crucial part in making changes to the hydraulic modeling for this project.

Field observations for this study were particularly important to generate numeric values that affect how water is conveyed through the study area.

Performing depth measurements to compare with surveyed streambed

For this particular flood study, we collected stream and reservoir stage information, which were at the upper limits along with stream stage information at an intermediate location within the modeled stretch.

The team would often go out to record high water marks, take pictures and make observations, which couldn’t be done sitting behind a computer desk, even with stream gauges installed. We found that another great tool for collecting stream stage information at various structures was to utilize a well level sensor that our environmental staff uses to measure water well depths, which was particularly useful in the dark.

well-level-sensorUsing a well level sensor to measure stream stage at Norton Avenue Bridge

Following a cold, wet night, the team would go into the field to observe the presence of what we thought to be an existing storage area near the confluence of Pigeon and Wolf Creek. Having a basic understanding of how water enters and exits this area was important because it impacted the hydraulic model.

existing-storage-areaObserving the existing storage area

There were some great takeaways from this study, and we learned that no matter what the objective of the study, field observations are pertinent to help understand and better interpret the modeling results, which helped influence some of our conclusions and recommendations.

How important do you consider field observations for a flood study?  At Environmental Design Group, we believe it’s a crucial step in creating the greatest environmental impact.


My Disability Has Allowed Me to Use Landscape Architecture to Pursue My Passion

By: Jeff Kerr, ASLA, AICP, Principal

american-falls-idahoFigure 1 American Falls, Idaho

I still remember being pulled out of my third-grade class. Yep, I was about to find out that I was one of those ‘special kids.’ My teacher, Mrs. Johnson, recognized that I was struggling with learning some basic comprehension skills. What we would later discover is that early illnesses, multiple ear infections, and a couple rounds of tubes in my ears affected my auditory learning. What I heard didn’t always register in my brain. I had a learning disability. I continued to struggle through most of school dealing with this, and I still do to this day.

Sure, I excelled at a few subjects in school, which would become obvious later – including science, art and photography. It wasn’t until I took a mental acuity test that I began to explore what a gift this auditory learning disability would be.

Yes, not a disability, a gift.

While several areas of the test were average or even above average, my pattern recognition was several deviations above the mean. I guess my brain developed a stronger aptitude to see patterns and overcome my auditory hearing impairment. I guess this is what it must be like for people who suffer from other disabilities – like blindness – their brain helps enhance other senses to adapt, like acute hearing or touch.

It looks so clear looking back, but I’m sure that’s why I was drawn to the visual arts – art, photography, graphics, maps. I was captivated at finding patterns everywhere I looked – the dispersal patterns of aggregate in concrete, the subtle textural changes of soil in farm fields, the rhythm of rivets on bridges, mathematical geometry of nature, the simple hierarchy of lines in maps. I was one of those people who could look at a map once and get to a place without ever looking at it again. When I looked at something, I instantly saw geometric patterns of repetition, contrast, symmetry, balance, hierarchy, proportion, scale and value. I loved it – all of it.

alaskaFigure 2 79d N 127d E – Alaska

You can probably guess how I found my vocation – in the field of patterns and design. Getting into landscape architecture was the perfect fit for me.

Visual design has become my first language. It’s what comes most naturally. As one of my colleagues noted, it can also be a curse. It’s sometimes hard to stop designing when you have a need to get it just right.

As an outlet, I began to use landscape patterns as a means of expressing and interpreting the world. It first came to me on a flight looking down from 30,000 feet. I was mesmerized by the juxtaposition of nature and human influence – the historic meander of streams, geometric farm fields, the hierarchy of street grids, housing patterns, and soil organics create a variety of subtle tones on the landscape. I explored the patterns created between these human-influenced and geologic landscapes by exploring underlying patterns of light, texture, scale and form. The motivation of this art was to provoke others to explore the beauty of our world differently – the way I see it. The objective was to take the ‘obvious out of the place’ and reinterpret images by exploring underlying patterns and creating a new color vernacular and unique interpretation of landscapes. I call them mosaic landscapes – telling stories of how patterns shape our world.

I am blessed to be able to do what I do – shape the form and patterns of our communities. My disability has allowed me to use landscape architecture to pursue my passion. I get to create places for people to enjoy through shaping the public realm.

I would guess we all have some type of disability – some more pronounced and obvious than others. My hope is that everyone can the find their ‘gift’ and use it to make a positive impact in their community.

parisFigure 3 Paris, France