Friday marks 80 years since 'The Great Flood' of Louisville - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Friday marks 80 years since 'The Great Flood' of Louisville

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Eighty years ago on Jan. 27, the Great Flood of 1937 took over Kentuckiana.

But there was another disaster looming, as people feared the city would run out of tap water. However, good engineering and rationing prevented that from happening.

"The '37 flood, it was just an amazing flood," said Jay Ferguson, museum education specialist with Waterworks Museum. "There was 20 inches of rain in less than a month."

It was the flood that would be talked about for decades to come.

"You look back at some of the old photographs in the archives, you can see the devastation where the buildings were completely covered downtown, people were moving around basically in boats," said Dane Anderson, Flood Protection supervisor at the Beargrass Creek Pumping Station.

"It was just a great catastrophe." 

Floodwaters were plenty, but drinking water was becoming scarce. The mayor asked residents to ration their water to using it only two hours a day.

The Louisville Water Company had to think quickly.

"Here at the pumping station, our electric pumps were flooded with water," Ferguson said. "We started up the boilers to start up the steam pumps, the boilers got flooded out."

An engineer had the idea to use a steamboat to power a steam engine.

"We were able to pump every day during the flood. So these guys were on the boat almost two weeks, 11 days, making sure Louisville didn't run out of water," Ferguson said.

Shortly after the Great Flood, the Water Company began flood-proofing its pumping stations. MSD eventually built the second largest pumping station in the world.

"We have a capacity of flood pump of 2,00,500 gallons a minute," Anderson said. "You can imagine the amount of water that can be pushed out of here."

Nearly 30 miles of floodwalls keep the Ohio River out of the city and so do 16 pumping stations.

"Roughly 12 billion gallons a day could be pumped out with all the systems in place running at the same time," Anderson said.

There have been 12 significant floods since 1937, but none with the widespread damage of 80 years ago.

MSD's flood protection system was built to last 50 years. It has lasted far longer and is now due for millions of dollars in upgrades to keep it running smoothly.

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