“Water is receding:” Water release at Friendship Dam leads to flooding in Adams County

FRIENDSHIP — The water is receding in Friendship, Wisconsin after a water release at the Friendship Dam. Adams County sheriff’s officials said Sunday only one roadway remains closed — County Highway N. It could be reopened as soon as Monday.

Sheriff’s officials said they were continuing to monitor water levels on Sunday in Friendship Lake and the surrounding areas, but they said flooding concerns to the west of Friendship Lake have subsided.

State Highway 13 through Adams County was no longer being detoured Sunday. Several other roadways were reopened to traffic, including 10th Avenue and 11th Avenue north of County Highway J.

Saturday, July 8th started early for Jerry Wendt in Friendship, Wisconsin.

“We started out with a phone call at home that they were having trouble with the dam here in Adams County,” Wendt told WMTV.

That’s about a 40-mile drive from Wendt’s home in Rudolph. Still, he and other members of the Amateur Radio Club worked together to block the roads around the Friendship Dam when a water release created flooding in the area.

That job took him until 2:00 p.m., he said, after which he retired to nearby Friendship Park — which was still partially underwater at the time. That didn’t stop curious onlookers from sloshing through, tiptoeing around caution tape to gawk at the water rushing out and play in the flooded green areas. He said he heard people musing about the events that led up to the water release.

“There has been some curiosity since I’ve been here at the park as to what’s wrong with the dam,” Wendt said.

Walking the park with her daughter, Tanya Rothe flipped through photos she took of the dam Saturday morning from a distance. Rothe lives about 15 minutes outside of Friendship but is often in town. On Saturday morning, she heard rumors of a problem at the dam and came by to look — but couldn’t even get close to the park, which at that time, was flooded nearly to the parking lot.

“We could only go up the hill and see, and from what we seen, just completely flooded and rushing through,” Rothe said.

She agreed that there were a number of popular stories circulating about what caused a backup that warranted such a sudden water release — some challenging the sheriff’s statement that the privately-owned dam didn’t fail.

“There’s been speculation that a part could’ve broke. They are saying that it didn’t fail. Not sure what’s going on,” Rothe told WMTV.

In 2016, the Department of Natural Resources ordered the dam’s owner, Charles Pheiffer, and the Town of Friendship to “complete unaddressed dam safety directives” following a department inspection in 2014. WMTV spoke to Dennis McFarlin, a lawyer who has represented Pheiffer, and he said he believed Pheiffer is compliant with all DNR directives and checks on the dam daily.

PHOTO GALLERY

No one from the DNR would provide information Saturday on whether Pheiffer complied with DNR directives or any other information on the water release.

As for Wendt, he said Saturday he’s just glad his road work was complete and that no injuries were reported from the situation.

“The water is receding, so we can go home and start another day,” Wendt said.

More than an inch of rain fell in the area on Thursday and Friday. The operator of the dam asked to open the gates to relieve pressure on the levee. By the afternoon, the waters were already receding.

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Watch for the area, and emergency personnel asked nearby residents to evacuate, but so far, no homeowners or business owners have reported issues.