Gas, electric and water impacted by floodwater
'2008 was very reactive, the response this time is very proactive'
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the Cedar River approaches a 23-foot crest in Cedar Rapids, the impact so far on area residents’ utilities has been minimal.
Justin Foss, spokesman with Alliant Energy, said Monday only about two dozen customers — including some on the wet side of HESCO barriers near Ellis and those at Ellis Boat Harbor — were without power in Cedar Rapids due to flooding.
That’s stark contrast to what happened in 2008, when rapidly-rising floodwater forced emergency shut-offs to Alliant substations, leaving thousands without power.
Foss said upgrades to the overall system and the relocation of some substations has helped greatly.
“The response in 2008 was very reactive, the response this time is very proactive,” Foss said, adding that crews are stationed on both sides of the Cedar River, which is expected to crest at 23 feet Tuesday morning.
“They are not shutting anybody off that is dry, until it’s deemed either unsafe for them to have power because there’s water there, or unsafe for our crews to go to shut them off,” Foss said. “We don’t want to risk our crews and put them in a dangerous situation, we want them to be safe as well.”
Some downtown businesses have requested their power shut off, Foss said.
Natural gas has been a slightly different story.
Ashton Hockman, spokeswoman with MidAmerican Energy, the primary natural gas provider for Cedar Rapids, said midday Monday that service had been shut off for about 1,600 Cedar Rapids customers.
“We are working with emergency management officials to respond to flooding that has occurred or is still expected to occur in northern and Eastern Iowa,” she said in an email. “As a result of the flooding, MidAmerican Energy crews started shutting off natural gas service to properties in danger of flooding starting on Friday and the work continued throughout the weekend.”
Foss said water can damage the natural gas system, so crews shut off gas service before flooding occurs.
The process is also much more time consuming, he said.
While electricity can be shut off for specific regions, natural gas needs to be locked off at the meter at each individual house.
Foss said Monday less than 200 customers were without gas service in Vinton and Palo.
As for water, Cedar Rapids spokeswoman Maria Johnson said Monday resident drinking water was “in good shape.”
“The wells have been moved up since 2008,” she said. “We don’t have a concern at this point and we don’t have any concerns based on the crest predictions.”
Johnson said rising water is putting the a strain on the city’s Water Pollution Control facility, which handles the community’s wastewater services.
Johnson said the system typically handles between 45-50 gallons a day, but on Monday had reached more than 110 million gallons.
“We are asking residents to conserve as much water as they can right now to put as little pressure as possible on the system,” she said.
Alliant Energy is evaluating power shutdowns on a block-by-block basis. Businesses that want power shut off should call 1-800-255-4268 and say the word “Emergency.”
MidAmerican Energy crews already have shut off natural gas service to properties that could be affected. Call MidAmerican at 1-888-427-5632.
For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.