Two additional, automated river gauges should be in place in the Cedar River upstream from Cedar Rapids this month, reports Ken DeKeyser, the city’s storm water management engineer.
A lack of gauges and the failure of a key one in downtown Cedar Rapids just upstream from the Eighth Avenue bridge hurt the ability of the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to report just what was happening to the Cedar River last June as it flooded Cedar Rapids.
On Monday came proof of how wildly forecasts of the river can move, particularly, as the city’s Craig Hanson said, in March and April when rains can be heavy, creeks feeding the Cedar River can flash flood and river levels can fluctuate dramatically.
Both Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, and Steve Hershner, the city’s utilities environmental manager, both noted Monday that the river forecast at 8 a.m. Monday had been for a crest of about 8 feet. Four hours later, the prediction had jumped to 12.76 feet, they noted. By evening, the prediction had dropped to 12 feet, right at the city’s earlier flood stage and long cry from the 31.12 feet of last June.
On Monday, though, it was clear some things hadn’t yet changed from last June as Hanson was reviewing the latest National Weather Service data and making reference to river readings in Waterloo.
The river typically reaches a crest about a foot below what the crest is in Waterloo, Hanson was saying.
That standard wisdom fell apart last year, of course, as heavy rains and flash flooding between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids played the central role in the flood disaster that hit Cedar Rapids.
In recognition of that, Cedar Rapids and the flood-hit city of Palo just to Cedar Rapids’ northwest were quick to pony up funds to get the USGS to install two new river gauges, one near Palo and one near Vinton upstream from Palo.
Cedar Rapids’ DeKeyser has told the Cedar Rapids City Council that the city would find a way to get the project funded if some of the partners weren’t willing to participate.
In recent days, he reported that Linn County and Vinton have agreed to share in both the cost of the gauges and the annual fee to operate them, while the city was still waiting to see if the Duane Arnold Energy Center and the Benton County Board of Supervisors would join in.
The total cost of installation is $34,000, or $5,700 for each of six entities should all participate. USGS pays 40 percent of the $29,000 a year in operating costs with each of the six entities paying $2,900.
DeKeyser said each jurisdiction will sign an agreement with USGS, and USGS on Monday reported that the matter is still in the works. USGS and DeKeyser both said the gauges should be in place this month.
As for the gauge near the Eighth Avenue bridge in downtown Cedar Rapids, DeKeyser reports that it has been replaced with updated equipment that provides an early warning if battery backup power isn’t working.
A failure of battery power caused the gauge to fail in June just as the Cedar River crest was approaching Cedar Rapids. As a result, the National Weather Service, the USGS and the city of Cedar Rapids lost track of the river’s rise as it leaped eight to 10 feet higher than expected.