Indiana communities construct pump station to help solve region’s flooding issues

Nov. 3, 2023

When the Ohio River surged above flood stage and overloaded the Cane Run pump station in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 2011, Lee Buckholz stood in a pool of water at the Derby Dinner Playhouse.  

“Sadly, this is our parking lot,” said Buckholz, an associate producer for the playhouse in an interview with “We like to refer to this as Lake Derby. Who knew we had a lakefront property?” 

Flooding has plagued the communities of Jeffersonville and Clarksville for decades. The Cane Run pump station had been operational for more than 70 years but had been underperforming for years. Flooding affected several businesses and shows at the playhouse were canceled several times.  

The communities along the Ohio River hope a new $6 million pump station will solve the issue. Plans for a new pump station have been discussed for decades but gained steam in 2017 with the creation of the Clarksville-Jeffersonville Flood Control District. The project was approved in 2019 and became operational in August.  

“We’ve been talking about this project for about 10 years or more,” said John Buckwalter, superintendent of the Jeffersonville-Clarksville Flood Control District. “The existing pump station just couldn’t keep up with the capacity that was required.” 

Long-time problem 

Issues with the Cane Run pump station plagued the community for years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended an upgrade to the pump station in the 1960s, but flooding seemed to be growing in intensity and frequency over time. 

Flooding in 2011 and 2015 cost several businesses and homeowners more than $1 million in property damages. The flooding also forced the closure of several streets in Clarksville, creating concern for emergency responders. A major sanitary sewer pipe that serves south Clarksville nearly failed due to an electrical malfunction related to flooding.  

Flooding occurs when the Ohio River reaches elevated levels after heavy rainfall. When the water level in Cane Run Creek Basin exceeds 427 feet, water backs up and causes flooding in Colgate Park and some nearby parking lots. Overflows occur an average of 22 times every six months, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental management.  

While an issue for years, funding for the project became hard to resolve. Since the pump station serves two communities, the approval process also required extensive time to sort out. The agreement called for the city of Jeffersonville, the town of Clarksville and the Jeffersonville Flood Control District to each contribute $2 million to finance the project. 

Improved pump capacity 

The solution to solving the communities’ water woes included the installation of three 250 horsepower vertical turbine pumps that can pump 16,000 gallons per minute. That is a significant upgrade over the existing and aging pumps.  

The previous facility pumped 28 cubic feet per second, while the new station has an output of 58 cubic feet per second. The project also includes the installation of three 30-inch diameter ductile force main discharge pipes, each at 700 linear feet, with a common outfall structure.  

Two sump pumps with 1 CFS for de-watering were included, along with a manual bar screen with 2-inch openings. Construction teams built an electrical building adjacent to the pump station, installed an emergency generator and paved a new access drive to the station.  

“With three pumps running at 100%, we can drop the water level by a foot pretty quickly,’’ Buckwalter said. “Even with two of the pumps we should be able to handle a significant rain event.” 

The station will send water to a 16-acre ponding area. The area takes about a month to fill during non-rain events and is between the flood wall and the northwest corner of a nearby park. The homes or businesses in the area are not impacted by water that is sent to the ponding area.  

The large ponding area allows rainwater to be absorbed into the soil, taken up by trees and plants or flow into wetlands naturally. With stormwater management ponds in place, rainwater can collect, and sediment and pollutants can settle out.  

Lochmueller Group of Indiana was the project's engineering firm, while Thieneman Construction was the contractor. 

Equipment access 

Pump station projects require access points to repair and replace pumps, and Thieneman specified several products from BILCO for that purpose.  

The project includes three roof hatches for access to the vertical turbine pumps, two floor doors that lead to a lower trough and a LadderUP safety post. Midwest Metal Works provided the doors for the project through BILCO’s distributor in the region, Welling Inc. 

“We know the BILCO products are good and Thieneman was able to get them at a good price,’’ Buckwalter said.  

BILCO products are selected for many projects related to the water industry due to the corrosion resistant materials, which ensure years of dependable service. They are also engineered with compression spring operators to provide one-hand operation and automatic hold-open arms that lock the covers in the open position to ensure safe egress.  

Rain-ravaged history 

Jeffersonville and Clarksville have faced issues with flooding plenty of times in the past. In 1937, the Great Flood left Clarksville submerged in as much as 12 feet of water. The same flood, which dropped 15 inches of rain in a 12-day span, left 90 percent of Jeffersonville submerged. The Ohio River stretched out 10 miles wide – its average length in the region is one mile -- and regional flooding caused an estimated $3.3 billion in today’s dollars.  

Most of the flooding in the region occurs during the first half of the year. Buckwalter believes they have built a solution that will keep flooding issues at bay and will serve the community well for a long time. They’ll certainly find out early in 2024. 

“We’re confident we’re not going to be overwhelmed any more,’’ Buckwalter said. “Flooding doesn’t happen often, but we’re happy that we have a solution that will benefit both communities.” 

Thomas Renner writes on building, construction and other trade industry topics for publications throughout the United States. 

About the Author

Thomas Renner

Thomas Renner writes on building, construction and other trade industry topics for publications throughout the United States. Renner can be reached at [email protected].