Flood 2016

Temporary berms could be in place for years in Cedar Rapids

City considers expediting pump stations, announces construction of berm to protect NewBo

The bridge at 12th Avenue SE and the earth berm constructed along the river in front of the National Czech and Slovak Museum is shown in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The bridge at 12th Avenue SE and the earth berm constructed along the river in front of the National Czech and Slovak Museum is shown in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Temporary flood berms erected along the riverfront in the last 10 days to hold back the Cedar River may remain in place for years, a city official said.

City officials are considering whether berms should be taken down or left in place until permanent flood protection is in place, possibly in several years. In most cases, it makes sense for them to remain, said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control program manager.


For example, the city plans to erect a permanent earthen berm for Czech Village in the next two to three years, so it would make sense to leave the temporary flood protection, located just 75 feet away, in place, he said. It would mean having to find a detour for the Cedar River recreation trail, which is blocked by the berm, he noted.

“We have all the fill there and the clay there for that system,” Davis said. “We could build that in a two- to three-year time frame. Maybe we shouldn’t move that out, for example.”

The berm near the African American Museum of Iowa could be removed because it sits on an easement. The city owns the land where the rest of the berms sit, Davis said.

Davis provided a briefing on the flood response and possible updates to the flood protection plan to the Cedar Rapids City Council’s Flood Control Subcommittee on Tuesday. The discussion also focused on financing, pump stations and flood protection for the New Bohemia District.


The city could move more quickly on flood projects with changes to the state’s Growth Reinvestment Initiative, which allows the city to put tax revenue toward flood mitigation efforts, Davis said. Cedar Rapids is one of 10 cities splitting $30 million, which is the state cap on the program, but generates more than it is allowed to use.


City officials may lobby to change state policy to remove the cap or allow Cedar Rapids to collect it’s allotment of $270 million for flood protection in 10 years rather than 20, Davis said. This could potentially save $75 million in inflationary costs, Davis said.


City staff want to expedite installation of pump stations along the Cedar River, which should prevent flooding via manholes and drainage intakes, Davis said.

Water coming from the river through underground pipes, rather than overflow from the river banks, proved most problematic as the Cedar River reached its second highest crest ever last week at just under 22 feet, city officials have said.

Pump stations cost about $5 million to $6 million a piece, and those costs could be offset by delaying flood barriers, such as for Kingston Village and downtown two to three years, Davis said.

A pump near the McGrath Amphitheatre and Kingston Village, and adding a pump and gate system near the CRST Center downtown, could be moved up from the 10-year to the five-year time frame. The pump station housing is already built near CRST, Davis said.

A pump station along 10th Avenue SE for the New Bohemia District is already under contract and should be done by 2018, and another pump station at the old Sinclair meatpacking site should be installed by fall 2017. Also within five years, a pump station could be installed behind the Czech Village berm, Davis said.

The pump stations are critical because they allow city officials to shut off outflow pipes to the river to prevent backups and switch on pumps in the event of rain or seepage, Davis said.

“Maybe not full pumping capacity, but that would make what we went through mostly nonexistent in those areas,” Davis said.



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A groundbreaking for construction of a permanent flood protection system for NewBo is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday on Second Street SE south of 16th Avenue SE.

The system includes a 13-foot-tall barrier that is a berm in some places and a wall in others, as well as the two pump stations and a detention basin. It is to run from the African-American Museum of Iowa to near the Alliant Energy substation, and would protect the entire district, including properties south of 16th Avenue SE, which were left on the “wet side” of the temporary flood barrier last week.

The $11 million project should be complete by November 2017 and protect NewBo from a 40-year flood, or if the river reaches 21 feet in elevation, Davis said. However, as additional pieces of the flood system are installed, the NewBo area would be protected to higher levels, eventually being able to withstand the 31-foot record river level in 2008.

Within two to three years, the city is designing a series of small parks on the “wet side” of the NewBo berm connected by trails and with benches and monuments along the way, Davis said.

City Council member Kris Gulick, who serves on the flood committee, questioned whether additional measures of protection would be needed when the permanent system in place. Davis said the permanent system should provide full protection.



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