The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

City’s flood-action plan kicks in: Cedar River expected to reach a tame 12 feet by Thursday, though sewer plant is hustling to avoid any challenges

In City Hall, Floods on March 9, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Believe it or not:

The National Weather Service predicts that the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids will crest at 12  feet on Thursday afternoon, which is the level of the city’s basic flood stage and above the 10-foot stage at which the city’s flood action plan begins to kick in.

The predicted 12-foot crest, issued last evening, is an improvement. At late afternoon, the crest was expected at 12.76 feet.

On any given year, these levels would not draw much of a note.

But it is only nine months since the catastrophic June 2008 flood, when the river reached 31.12 feet, and people are apt to pay attention, Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said Monday afternoon.

Hanson said there is no general cause for concern.

Nevertheless, he reported that city crews and contractors on Monday were scurrying around because of concern that waters even approaching a relatively low height of 13 feet could cause new problems to the city’s Water Pollution Control facility. That facility is still on the mend from extensive damage caused by last year’s flood.

Hanson and Steve Hershner, the city’s utilities environmental manager, reported that the problems facing the plant are two-fold.

Firstly, a sewer line along Prairie Creek has a hole somewhere along it and the line has been taking in creek water since the heavy weekend rains. Hanson ordered a portion of J Street SW closed Monday because quick raise of water had forced Prairie Creek out of its banks.

A second issue is an open section of sewer line in main sewer interceptor line, which is being renovated near the Water Pollution Control plant.

Too much river and creek water infiltrating into a sewer system designed to carry waste water potentially could overwhelm and damage the city’s main pump station at the Water Pollution Control plant, Hanson and Hershner said.

“We’re taking steps to manage all the flow into the system,” Hershner said.

Both Hershner and Hanson noted that the river was expected to crest at about 8 feet when the two of them arrived at work on Monday morning.

By noon, the projection for the crest had jumped to 12.76 feet, a change dramatic enough that both mentioned it.

Cedar Rapids’ flood-management action plan kicks into gear when the river is expected to reach the 10-foot stage, which is expected to happen at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Prior to last June, the city’s flood-action plan was designed to protect the city against a river height, as measured on a gauge up from the Eighth Avenue bridge, of 20 feet, which had been the record flood level prior to last June when the river climbed to 31.12 feet.

With Monday’s rising water, Hanson said no one has called the city Public Works Department to express concern, nor should they call, he said.

Hanson said heavy rain on ground that is still partially frozen and that was already saturated from last year is prompting the rise in creeks and rivers.

He noted that March and April typically bring a lot of fluctuation in water levels in Iowa.

Hanson said the city will close Otis Road SE when the Cedar River reaches 10 feet.

At 11 feet, the city starts pumps on Ellis Road NW west of Edgewood Road NW.

At 11.5 feet, water begins to affect Osborn Park on the river’s east side below the 14th/16th Avenue bridge.

At 13 feet, water begins to enter the street under the 12th Avenue bridge between the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Penford Products plant. But that road has been closed since last year’s flood, Hanson noted.

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