Johnson County issues disaster declaration following flash flooding

Solon calls for sand bag volunteers, North Liberty takes steps to protect sewer lines

IOWA CITY - Heavy rain caused flash flooding across southeastern Iowa on Wednesday, leading to an "emergency" declaration in Johnson County.

1-3" of rain fell across areas along and south of Highway 30 according to KCRG-TV9 Meteorologist Joe Winters.

Johnson County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Wilson said that his office issued a county emergency disaster declaration. The order allows county resources to be used by communities in Johnson County. Wilson said they are especially concerned about the situation in Solon and it's waste water treatment plant. The plant is near a creek and additional heavy rain is expected.

Forty-six year old Dawn Bearce has lived in her condo in Solon for a little over three years, but she's never seen torrential rain and flooding like what she saw Wednesday afternoon.

Bearce, a Solon resident who joined in to help at least 30 other volunteers to sandbag water-logged areas of Solon yesterday, said she left work in fear that the basement unit of her condo was going to flood.

Just a few feet from the front stoop of her condominium on Duchess Drive, a pond had formed in the cul-de-sac from the hours of rain that blew through Johnson County on Wednesday. Behind her house, a real pond — one that had been there all along — was overflowing and creeping towards the bay windows of her building.

"I mean, we have never had rain this bad before," Bearce said, as she stood sopping wet at the Solon Public Works building, just a mere two blocks from her condo. "When I moved in I asked if I needed flood protection and they said it had never flooded."

As the rain continued to come down, volunteers continued to pack sand bags and load them on to truck to be dispersed throughout neighborhoods and other areas of Solon that were flooding. Dave Wilson, Johnson County Emergency Management Coordinator, said volunteers hadn't needed to use the flood protection since 2008 — one of the worst flooding incidents in eastern Iowa to date.

Tom Trump, another resident on Duchess Drive, said he was grateful for how quickly people — family, friends, neighbors — jumped in to help out.

"Some of the people who live here had kids in school so they pulled them out to help too," Trump said. "They're really lifesavers, when we needed help to make sandbags they were here and got it done right quick."

Back in Iowa City, the New Pioneer Co-op, which sits dangerously close to Ralston Creek on South Van Buren Street, was also making preparations as the creek appeared to crest. The store closed down at noon for about an hour on Wednesday, as staff worked to prepare the store for flooding.

"Basically what happens is we take a very close look at potential future precipitation before we make a judgement call like that," said Keegan Doremus, deli manager at the Iowa City store. "And there is actually a ratio we use. If rainfall stays at 1 inch per hour (in the creek) then waters will continue to flow, if it exceeds that that's when we start to see flooding problems."

Ultimately, the store decided to take a precautionary measure and put up flood barriers. A few sandbags could also be spotted just outside the door on Wednesday afternoon. Doremus said this was the first time the flood gates had to be used so far this year, adding the last time was probably sometime last summer.

Those with the Co-op have wanted to re-locate the Iowa City store for some time, largely due to concerns that the grocery store currently rests in a flood plain. Jenifer Angerer, marketing manager at New Pioneer Co-op, said the store didn't take on any water Wednesday afternoon, adding the staff goes through frequent flood drills to make sure employees are prepared to secure it in case of an emergency.

"One of our primary goals is to get the Iowa City store out of a flood zone," Angerer said. "Because we are in a flood plain there are limitations for how much we can invest in the building itself, just based on county regulations. We might be okay and under the cost threshold if we had a couple of inches, but if we had more than that — where it was taking out coolers and every electrical equipment — we would exceed the cost barrier and we wouldn't be able to repair that building. We would have to start over somewhere else."

Angerer said the store has most recently decided to look into opening a third location, while protecting the Iowa City store as best they can. 

"It's always a thing we worry and watch and we hope for the best until we can relocate our tiny store," Angerer said.

Meanwhile, in North Liberty, the influx of storm water increased the flow through North Liberty's sewer system by nearly 400 percent, the city said.

Officials will temporarily bypass its normal sewer collection process Wednesday evening to protect homes from sewer backup. The move, which has been approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will allow the storm water to enter Muddy Creek and continue downstream instead of bottle-necking at the city's treatment plant.

When the threat to homes and other property has subsided, North Liberty will resume its normal collection. Residents can help reduce the load on the sewer system by lowering their water usage tonight.

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.