Cedar River to Crest Sunday in Cedar Rapids, Crest Lowered

By Rick Smith, Reporter

A view of the Alliant Energy Building (left) and the Linn County Courthouse and the Third Avenue Bridge over the Cedar River taken from Riverfront Park on Friday, May 31, 2013, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Friday was a day for the city of Cedar Rapids to catch its breath.

The flooding Cedar River stopped its climb at the 17-foot level, a foot above major flood stage, with the National Weather Service last night continuing to say that the river will crest at 18.5 feet early Sunday morning.

The earlier projected 19.8 foot crest, would have been the second highest level since 1929 and fourth highest level of all time — which is a level still more than 11 feet short of the level of the city’s June 2008 flood disaster when the river got to 31.12 feet. The projected crest has been lowered from 19.8 feet to 18.5 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz may have said it best during a Friday news conference when he said he understood that local residents are concerned and anxious.

"So is the city," Pomeranz said.

But he added that the city was implementing its "strategic flood response plan" as it was monitoring the river forecasts from the National Weather Service.

"Most importantly, we have the resources and a plan in place to respond," the city manager said.

Late Friday afternoon, Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager and flood response chief, said a first task on Saturday morning will be to assess when floodwater will top busy Edgewood Road NW at Ellis Boulevard NW, necessitating the closing of the Edgewood Road bridge.

The city had expected to close the bridge early on Friday, but Hanson said the Cedar River rose less quickly than had been projected. The river needs to get above 18 feet before the bridge is closed, he said.

Hanson said it was still likely the river would get close to the 19.9 foot level on Sunday before receding.

"We’re preparing protection to above the 20-foot level," he said.

Prairie Creek, he said, was expected to crest early Sunday, which will help to raise the Cedar River level a bit at the spot near C Street SW where the creek enters the river.

At Friday’s news conference, Steve Hershner, the city’s utilities director, reported that the flooding river and recent rains were taxing the city’s wastewater system.

During times of plentiful rain and a high river, water infiltrates into the city’s sanitary sewer system and sends additional fluid to the Water Pollution Control plant for treatment.

Sufficiently high has the flow into the plant been the last two days that the plant on Friday was not providing total treatment to a portion of the plant's wastewater before it is sent into the Cedar River, Hershner said.

The wastewater is receiving primary and secondary treatment, but a portion is bypassing the activated sludge part of normal treatment, he explained. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, he added, has been notified as required.

"Flush wisely," he said. Limiting flushes will limit the amount of wastewater going into the system, he explained.

Normally this time of year, the Water Pollution Control facility treats about 40 to 45 million gallons of effluent a day. It is now receiving more than 100 million gallons a day, Hershner said.

Assistant Fire Chief Greg Smith on Friday reported that the city would move its engine company out of its temporary home at 1010 First St. NW — in what had been the flood-damaged former Sign Productions building — as a precautionary measure. Other city vehicles at the site also have been moved, city officials said.

Hanson said the city’s emergency flood control actions are holding well, though some water is gathering in low-lying spots unable to get into the storm sewers, which have been plugged along the river to prevent the river from flowing back into the storm sewer system.

The city is adding pumps and additional concrete structures around manholes today to tackle water in the street. This has occurred in New Bohemia, First Street NW and Eighth Street NW, he said.

Hanson applauded volunteers who descended on New Bohemia on Thursday and into Thursday night to fill and place sandbags around businesses there.

The city has established a temporary sandbag operation in New Bohemia, near Czech Village and at Second Avenue and Second Street SW.

Hanson said the city continued to pay particular attention to New Bohemia, and he said city crews were prepared to put even more sandbags in place should a storm sewer plug keeping river water out of the storm sewers fail there.

Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, on Friday afternoon said a lot of volunteers had helped with sandbagging in New Bohemia. Sandbags have been brought into Czech Village, but most won’t be deployed there unless the river levels is worse than expected, she said.

"Everything seems to be pretty good," Pruden said of New Bohemia and Czech Village, which sit across the Cedar River from one another.

The city’s Hanson said the Softball Hall of Fame at Ellis Park is the only city building expected for now to take on floodwater. But he said the contents of the building have been moved to high ground.

Mayor Ron Corbett on Friday said the city was taking on a "major flooding event."

"We want our citizens to know we are on alert," he assured.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors on Friday issued a local disaster declaration for Linn County because of flash flooding on May 29 in Walker and elsewhere in the county and because of continued flooding throughout the county.

The declaration puts in place local emergency procedures, which include allowing individual board members to make spending decisions on behalf of the entire board if an emergency requires it.

Gov. Terry Branstad already has issued a state disaster proclamation for Linn, Johnson, Benton, Delaware and Black Hawk counties in Eastern Iowa. The governor’s proclamation allows state resources to be used by to recover from storms and includes grants of up to $5,000 for individual households with incomes at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less.

On Friday, the Linn board learned that floodwater is not expected to impact county buildings at the projected flood level. The subbasement at the Linn County Courthouse is taking on some groundwater, but pumps are removing the water, county officials said.

Board member Linda Langston said she did not think that Linn County Emergency Management Agency would open its countywide emergency operations center.

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