The Midwest cleans up after a wet spring

Photo courtesy of Jeff Newton, Veenker Memorial Golf Course.
Floodwaters carried extensive debris onto the Veenker Memorial Golf Course.

It was a rough spring across the state of Iowa this year with flooding that caught many people by surprise. Homes, farmland, businesses and factories were flooded. Extensive flood damage occurred to turfgrass on golf courses, sports fields, parks and home lawns.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Minner, Iowa State University Extension.
Coach Ed Thomas talks with Chris Schlosser, past president of the ISTMA, during volunteer efforts to restore the Parkersburg High School football field.

Iowa City Parks & Recreation athletic fields have flood damage that will prevent their use this season and will have to be rebuilt in the fall. An F-5 tornado, part of the same spring 2008 weather pattern that brought flooding to Iowa, destroyed the Parkersberg High School building and athletic fields in Parkersberg, Iowa.

 “There’s going to be a lot of cleanup, overseeding and complete rebuilding,” said Dr. Dave Minner, state turf specialist with Iowa State University. Minner spent much of his summer on the road providing assistance and coordination of recovery efforts to turf managers around that state following turf damage from the major flooding.  

“You have two types of flooding,” Minner explained. “You have clean water and dirty water. Backup water is usually clean, and the fast-flowing flood water that carries debris of various kinds is dirty water.” Fast-moving floodwater often carries large amounts of silt, leaving behind deep layers that must be removed when the waters recede.

Photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association.
Coach Ed Thomas talks with Chris Schlosser, past president of the ISTMA, during volunteer efforts to restore the Parkersburg High School football field.

Flooding effects on turfgrass

Turf sites are often placed in flood plains where the land may be unacceptable for other purposes. In general, turfgrass cannot survive extended inundation with water. Just how much damage will occur often depends on the length of time the turf is under water, the condition of the turf and the weather at the time of flooding. Dr. Nick Christians, Iowa State University turf scientist said, “It varies with the condition of the grass. It’s stress on the grass, and if the grass is weak, it’s worse. Hot weather also makes it worse.” Christians said that bluegrass is somewhat more likely to survive flooding because of its rhizome growth. “Timing of the flood is bad for reseeding cool-season grasses,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Newton, Veenker Memorial Golf Course.Photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association.
Veenker Memorial cart paths were
covered by floodwaters.
Five feet of sand was on Traer Country Club’s number 5 fairway.
Photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association.Photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Minner, Iowa State University Extension.
Sand covered three fairways and an irrigation pond at Traer Country Club.The Jones Golf Course green after silt was removed, and grass is surviving where silt dried and cracked, exposing the grass to air.
Photo courtesy of Mike Evertsen, Traer Golf Course.Photo courtesy of Mike Evertsen, Traer Golf Course.
Debris and silt at the edge of the fourth fairway at the Traer Golf Course.Silt covers cart path and green at Traer Golf Course.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Minner, Iowa State University Extension.Photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Minner, Iowa State University Extension.
The Jones Golf Course green and fairway after silt was removed from the green in foreground.The Jones Golf Course putting green after silt was pushed off with a sand trap machine and the surface cleaned with pressurized clean water.

Late August through mid-October is recommended for seeding cool-season grasses, but many Iowa turf managers can’t wait for that time frame to try to get  their turf sites back in operation. For others, the wait will extend well into next year’s playing season, as some sites require complete rebuilding. If reseeding is done in summer, weeds may be a significant concern. A recently marketed herbicide, Tenacity, or the herbicide Seduron, which has been available for some time, can be used at planting to help prevent weeds.  

Assessment and recovery

Some sites may have only debris to be removed, and silt can sometimes be washed off. Minner said, “If you can see green grass coming up through the silt, there’s a good chance it can recover. You have to get heavy silt off using front-end loaders and other types of earthmoving equipment when necessary,” Minner said.  

Primary recovery efforts include helping the areas dry out and removing debris and silt. As silt dries, it leaves a crusty top that has to be broken up. If there are concerns about contamination, the state department of public health should be contacted.

Photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association.
An ISTMA volunteer reseeds the Parkersburg High School football field with a Turfco Triwave seeder
The damaged maintenance shop required complete rewiring and interior wall reconstruction.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Newton, Veenker Memorial Golf Course.
This maintenance shop was flooded with 4 feet of water.

A number of golf courses throughout the state were affected to various degrees.  Veenker Memorial Golf Course, at Iowa State University in Ames, received extensive flooding. John Newton, superintendent, said, “Our shop had about 4 feet of water in it. That’s probably what is the most disruptive [right] now. Our walls were insulated and wicked up, the water creating environmental health issues.” The entire shop has had to be rewired with interior walls refinished.

Newton said, “We were able to rinse off the silt and re-topdress our tees. We didn’t have the man power to do our fairways, and we’ll have to re-grass them. We’ll aerify, pull cores and drill seed.” Newton likely will kill off the existing ryegrass fairways with Roundup and reseed them in bentgrass in the fall.

Volunteers pitch in

For Mike Evertsen, superintendent at Traer Golf Course, Traer, Iowa, the season never began. His course was flooded in March before opening, and after a major cleanup effort, a second flood destroyed the course.  About 3 feet of sand ended up on most of the course, with up to 5 feet on one fairway. Most of the sand from the first flood was removed with endloaders and other equipment.  

Evertsen scrambled to obtain equipment and volunteers who worked long hours to remove the sand from the first flood. He received some unexpected assistance when Joe Belt, Red Oak Country Club superintendent, Red Oak, Iowa, contacted a local hose manufacturer to try to help in the Traer Golf Course recover effort. Evertsen said, “The Parker Company in Red Oak manufactures hydraulic hoses for John Deere equipment. They quickly made three 100-foot, 1-inch irrigation hoses for us, and shipped them to us by overnight express, all at no cost. These are very costly items, and they were a tremendous help to us.”

Before all the sand was hauled away, a second flood left three fairways and the irrigation pond covered with sand. “The second flood took the grass with it,” Evertsen said. Several greens and tees along with the maintenance shop and paved parking lot were destroyed, and the course will require complete rebuilding. Tentative plans are to rebuild the course this fall.

“It kind of puts our damage in perspective when you look at cities such as Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, and see the widespread damage there, but the damage to our golf course is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Evertsen said.

Jones Golf Course, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of many courses that were heavily damaged. About 1 inch of silt covered the course. “It’s so thick that it has to be removed,” Minner said. “When the silt is removed, they will have to do extensive reseeding.”

The F-5 tornado that hit Parkersberg destroyed the Parkersberg High School building, along with the football field, and baseball and softball complex. Minner and Joe Wagner, past president of the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association, coordinated volunteer efforts to help rebuild the football field. ISTMA volunteers cleaned off the field and filled in deep gouges left by debris driven into the ground by the tornado. They reseeded and topdressed the field. Coach Ed Thomas is expected to lead his team in play on the field this fall.

Iowa is just one of several states that suffered major flood damage this spring. The Mississippi River flooded numerous cities along its banks in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Inland stream flooding occurred throughout the upper Midwest.  Major rains in Indiana flooded creeks and rivers. The flood-damaged stadium field at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., had to be rebuilt.  In Rockford, Ill., a 105-acre outdoor sports complex of eight softball diamonds and 18 soccer fields were under water, resulting in extensive cancellations of athletic events.

Numerous city parks, golf course and sports complexes, along with residential and corporate turf, were damaged by flooding throughout the Midwest.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Turf. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.