Flood Protection Coming to Southeast Cedar Rapids Neighborhood

By Rick Smith, Reporter

Flooding on Indian Creek in the Sun Valley neighborhood on Thursday, April 18, 2013, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - City officials repeatedly have said it would take a decade and likely more to get flood protection in place for the city following its historic 2008 flood on the Cedar River.

The timeline forecast now has proved accurate for Cedar Rapids’ Sun Valley neighborhood, which sits along Indian Creek west of East Post Road SE and where a raging Indian Creek damaged about 25 homes in a flash flood on June 4, 2002.

This week, the City Council’s Infrastructure Committee, the city’s engineering staff and Sun Valley neighbors signed off on a final $1-million plan to construct a flood-protection berm along Cottage Grove Parkway SE to protect the neighborhood from Indian Creek.

The full City Council is slated to approve funding for final design of the project next week.

Jim Sines, a Cedar Rapids attorney and one of the Sun Valley neighbors who has pushed the city from the start to provide flood protection for his neighborhood, called the final protection plan "great news." Sines, of 4241 Sunland Ct. SE, said getting protection in place will "revitalize" Sun Valley. Neighbors won’t have to worry every time there is a hard rain, he said.

Dee Anderson, of 4276 Cottage Grove Parkway SE, this week thanked city officials and the council’s Infrastructure Committee, calling the protection plan "so reassuring to me."

"There was a time I felt we (the neighbors) were in it alone," Anderson told the committee.

The City Council voted earlier this year to use $1 million in revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for the Sun Valley flood-protection project.

The project was slowed a few months ago as the city conducted a new hydrological analysis of the creek to make sure the proposed berm at Sun Valley would not raise the threat of flooding across, above or below the neighborhood along the creek.

Rob Davis, the city’s engineering operations manager, told the council committee that the berm, which will gradually climb six to eight feet above the level of Cottage Grove Parkway SE before descending toward the creek, will raise the creek level less than 2 inches in height, an increase that he said will dissipate by the time the creek gets to the East Post Road bridge about 1,300 feet downstream, he said.

Sines said it was important that any protection for Sun Valley did not threaten neighbors across, above or below Sun Valley along the creek.

The berm will stand one foot above the 500-year flood level and an inch or so above the level of the 2002 flood, Davis said.

He said the top of the berm will be eight feet wide so the city can place sandbags or other temporary flood-protection structures on it if a flood higher than the 2002 flood arrives.

Davis said the berm will not be built to the standard of an Army Corps of Engineers levee, which would require three additional feet of height and an extra $1 million or more in cost.

As a result, neighbors will continue to need flood insurance, which Davis said the city always recommends in the flood-prone areas. The berm is no absolute guarantee against flood damage, he said.

The berm will be comprised of clay and will be covered by grass, which will be mowed to make sure varmints aren’t digging into the berm and damaging it.

In recent months, the city and consultants Stanley Consultants Inc. of Muscatine and Anderson Bogert of Cedar Rapids considered and rejected a suggestion by one neighbor that the berm at Sun Valley be built in the front yards of homes on Cottage Grove Parkway SE and not across the street, which the neighbor said would mean that the berm would not need to be as high.

Davis, though, said such a berm placement would need to have openings for 11 driveways.

The approved berm will run parallel to the creek, but will turn north and tie into high ground to prevent water from getting to the neighborhood from the west. In addition, the project calls for re-establishing an existing drainage way just west of Sun Valley to carry water runoff north to south to the creek.

Neighbors Anderson and Sines said it would be nice if the berm could be in place by next spring, but Davis said a wetland mitigation requirement would prevent the berm construction from beginning until after the spring flood season.

Sines said he would have to "keep a stiff upper lip" for one more potential flood season.

"Just hang in there for one more spring," council member Ann Poe, a member of the Infrastructure Committee, told the neighbors.

Poe said the city would be ready to deploy temporary flood protection measures to protect the neighborhood if flooding is an issue in the first part of 2014.

The city deployed temporary measures — it can use water-filled "tiger dams" and sand filled Hesco barriers — in 2013, but the creek did not climb as high as had been feared.

Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said it can cost the city as much as $80,000 in labor and materials each time it deploys temporary measures to protect Sun Valley.

The permanent berm at Sun Valley is a credit to Sines and other neighbors who did not accept the city’s assertion back in 2002 that the flash flood at Sun Valley that year was caused by one-time rainfall of record proportions.

Instead, Sines and other neighbors focused on all the development — and the loss of ground to absorb water — that had taken place in the Indian Creek watershed above the Sun Valley neighborhood since the 1970s when homes were built there.

The neighbors also hired their own expert, A. Jacob Odgaard, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. Among his recommendations, Odgaard advised the city to clean out the floodway along Indian Creek to keep water from backing up once it left the creek bed. The city did.

The city’s Davis this week said the berm to be built now at Sun Valley is similar to the one Odgaard had envisioned a decade ago.

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