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City Prepares: Thick Ice Causes Concerns About Ice Jams

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - This constant cold is making a real mess for Cedar Rapids city workers from cleaning up snow to filling potholes, but another problem has city leaders worried as we inch closer to spring: ice jams.

This colder-than-usual winter means ice on the Cedar River is very thick. Last year, ice jams caused flooding on the northwest side of Cedar Rapids. During a meeting Monday, one council member said the city was caught a bit off guard last year. So, many are working to stay ahead of any potential problems.

"It's something else, yeah, I've got pictures," said Allen Fritz.

Fritz has only lived at his home on Ellis Boulevard for two years, but that's long enough to see an ice jam impact his Northwest Cedar Rapids neighborhood.

"Really just had to watch the water come up to the house, right around us. It went all the way around us," Fritz said.

Fritz is already concerned about what will happen in this year's cold winter. City leaders said at some places the ice on the Cedar River is at least two feet thick. Public Works Maintenance Manager Craig Hanson said the city needs to be ready for a potential ice jam.

"It could last longer because it takes longer for the individual ice to melt through, if it does jam. You are looking at a thicker block of ice that has to melt away," Hanson said.

City leaders detailed how they're preparing at a meeting with city council members Monday afternoon.

"Looking back it's about every other -- fifty percent chance that you are going to have an ice jam that occurs," Hanson said.

Public works has pumps and equipment ready to go. Crews are also working to fix a berm on Ellis Lane and installed a valve on Q Avenue to prevent river water from backing up into the neighborhood.

"With every ice out, they are totally unpredictable," said Water Utility Plant Manager Tariq Baloch.

Baloch said his department is changing how it deals with some gates on the five and one dam, if an ice jam situation occurs. It's not letting the system automatically adjust the gates.

"We want to have complete manual control of the system. So that, you know, we can make the decisions at each trigger point," Baloch said.

While the preparations are in place, Fritz just wants Mother Nature to slowly melt the ice.

"We've had a crazy winter and crazy weather, but hopefully things kind of, you know, melt evenly instead of all at once," Fritz said.

City leaders also discussed potential damage to the house boats at Monday's meeting. Some minor damaged happened during last year's ice jam. Crews have already been in touch with power companies to get the power turned off there, if needed.