WATERLOO, Iowa — A low Cedar River level for 2014 leads to the preferred activities on the water as people back up their pickup trucks, with boats on the hitch, into the boat launch at George Wyth State Park.
Yet watching the Cedar River, especially in the spring thaw, is never far from the minds of those at city hall in Cedar Falls.
“The city engineering watches it very carefully and the planning, the fire department, public safety — everyone — is on high alert until it passes,” said Cedar Falls City Planner Marty Ryan.
Just think back to this week six years ago. The Cedar River in Cedar Falls crested at a record of 102.1 feet, 14 feet above flood stage. After the Flood of 2008 hit, Ryan said the city’s buyout program included about 150 homes, most on the city’s north side.
As technology advances, now people who watch the river flowing through Cedar Falls and neighboring Waterloo have two new interactive flood maps to chart rising river levels.
One map is on the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (APHS) website.
The updated Waterloo map is on the website for the Iowa Flood Information System.
These maps allow the user to how the Cedar River would spread at a specified river level. For example, in Cedar Falls, with a flood stage of 88 feet, a level of 96 feet would impact the city’s eastern edge, east of Main Street and south to 18th Street. A repeat of the 2008 level would flood nearly all of downtown Cedar Falls.
The IFIS maps were of use during moderate flooding in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in May and June of 2013, displaying the effects as the Cedar River or Iowa City kept rising before receding.
A few miles away, in Waterloo, this updates IFIS map helps visualize the damage that can occur.
“When you see the number (of the river level), it’s an abstract thing and, if you don’t work with it every day like I do, you don’t necessarily have a feel for how it’s going to impact a community or the people in it,” said Waterloo Flood Engineer Jamie Knutson.
Knutson noted that Waterloo does have 20 miles of levees along the Cedar River to protect the city from flooding. Yet there are pockets of the city that can be exposed in a flood that these interactive maps can assist with.
“A lot of downtown, the trails, the public parks, our baseball stadium, a lot of those will go under,” said Knutson. “It’s nice to have this tool to see. What it does for us is we do still have a few pockets of residents who that we need to, sometimes, get outs of harms’ way.”
Back in Cedar Falls, Ryan has an office stocked with plenty of flood maps, from the 1985 levels to the more updated paper maps in 2011. Now the benefit on an online resource can make flooding more specific and more real to those in the path.
“The more information you have, you can predict what might be coming and that makes it easier for public safety planning and for the residents to anticipate what’s coming as well,” said Ryan.
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