KRONENWETTER — Tracie Peterson’s daughters already had planned how they would arrange their new bedrooms when the water started pouring into the basement of the family’s Kronenwetter home.
Four weeks later, what’s left of the 10- and 11-year-olds’ new furniture is stacked in the lone, small dry patch at the center of the still-unfinished basement. The rest was sold off in a garage sale because the Petersons don’t have enough space to store furniture, with water saturating much of their basement.
About 150 families in two subdivisions on the east side of Kronenwetter have found themselves in the same situation this month — basements flooded, possessions ruined and plans abandoned.
Some residents now are blaming the village and home builders for cutting corners in permit approvals and construction.
Village officials say they don’t have any responsibility for the flooding caused by high groundwater after a winter of heavy snow and a wet spring. But the Village Board did approve a $35,000 contract to James Peterson Sons of Medford to pump water out of a nearby retention pond, hoping groundwater will flow into the pond as it is pumped out, minimizing short-term flooding in basements and clearing standing water from ditches around the neighborhoods.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Tracie Peterson said Thursday afternoon, looking at the iron-rich water puddles in her basement. “Today is the first time I’ve seen the floor in a month.”
Village officials said they might need to install sewer systems in the neighborhood to prevent flooding in the future. The systems would be financed with a tax assessment on residents in the Meadowood and Golden Pond subdivisions built in 2004. Cost estimates for design and construction of those changes weren’t available this week.
Basement flooding is scattershot in the neighborhood. For every resident without a soggy basement, another across the street or down the block isn’t as lucky. Black, white or green hoses snake down the lawns of those houses, carrying water from overworked sump pumps to rocky ditches running along streets.
It’s true that groundwater levels are unusually high for the area this year, according to National Weather Service data. Precipitation for the year in Wausau is nearly an inch higher than the average, and local communities that feed into the Wisconsin River are at similar levels.
Kronenwetter Village Administrator Blaine Oborn said it’s not reasonable for the village to put restrictions on builders in anticipation of all weather conditions.
“The dilemma is this could be a record amount of water that we never see again,” he said. “You can’t build for every situation Mother Nature may throw at you.”
Kronenwetter Director of Public Works Sean Von Bergen said records from the time of the subdivision’s construction show contractors were advised to put basements as high as possible when building.
The building code also requires installation of sump pumps if soil demonstrates high groundwater levels in the past.
“It’s at the contractor or homeowner’s onus to say maybe we should raise or lower the basement at that time,” said Von Bergen, who was hired this year.
Eric and Kelly Rodriguez moved into their home six years ago, and the sound of sump pumps running outside has become part of their daily life from March through December.
They began finishing their basement last year, then had to cut holes in the ceiling and floor to accommodate a second sump pump, powered by two marine batteries. Anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of water per hour flows through hoses into the ditches on each side of their corner lot, “the moat to our castle,” Kelly Rodriguez said, laughing.
“We’ve timed it,” she said. “If the power goes out, we’ve got about five minutes before we start to flood. I just don’t understand why they didn’t put sewer systems in when this area was built.”
Tracie Peterson and her husband, Jim, figure the water damage to the basement and a new sump pump will cost them up to $10,000, and even more if they attempt to raise their home above groundwater levels.
“I’m worried about mold, mosquitoes breeding in all the standing water around here,” she said. “We keep saying it’s a blessing that we waited to finish the basement, or it could be even worse.”
Homebuilders working close to the flooding subdivisions made their own adjustments when groundwater levels rose last month. Trent Dudei, a sales consultant for Red Granite Builders who manages the new Park Vista subdivision, said levels for two homes in new subdivisions were raised to avoid future flooding.
“It is scary, especially when people say, ‘It’s just a bad year,'” Dudei said. “It could be the new water level, so we have to prepare and be as proactive as possible to avoid putting a homeowner in a bad place later on.”