Floodwater challenging Cedar Rapids' wastewater plant

Flood control measures doing their job so far; Edgewood bridge could close Saturday

People are reflected in water of the Cedar River as it inundates Riverfront Park along First St. SW on Thursday, May 30,
People are reflected in water of the Cedar River as it inundates Riverfront Park along First St. SW on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Flush wisely.

That was the request on Friday morning of Steve Hershner, the city’s utilities director, as the flooding river and expected additional rain today is taxing the city’s wastewater system.

During times of plentiful rain and a high river, water infiltrates into the city’s sanitary sewer system and sends additional fluid to the Water Pollution Control plant for treatment.

Sufficiently high is the flow into the plant that the city that the plant is not now providing total treatment to a portion of the wastewater before it is sent into the Cedar River, Hershner reported at a Friday morning news conference.

The wastewater is receiving primary and secondary treatment, but a portion is bypassing the activated sludge part of normal treatment, he said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, he added, has been notified as required.

Limiting flushes will limit the amount of wastewater going into the system, he explained.

Normally this time of year, the Water Pollution Control facility treats about 40 to 45 million gallons of effluent a day. It is now receiving more than 100 million gallons a day, Hershner reported.

The city’s Friday morning news conference at the Police Department in and of itself signified that the current flooding of the Cedar River is significant.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said the city understood that citizens were concerned and anxious, and he added, "So is the city."

He said the city was implementing its "strategic flood response plan" while monitoring the forecasts from the National Weather Service.

"Most importantly, we have the resources and a plan in place to respond," he said.

Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, said the Cedar River rose more slowly than anticipated overnight, and so he said the expectation now is that level of the rising river won’t reach beyond the 18-foot level until Saturday morning, necessitating the closing of busy Edgewood Road at Ellis Boulevard NW and, as a result, also the closing of the Edgewood Road bridge.

Assistant Fire Chief Greg Smith noted that the city is moving its engine company out of its temporary home at 1010 First St. NW — in what had been the flood-damaged former Sign Productions building — as a precautionary measure. Other city vehicles at the site also have been moved, Greg Buelow, the Fire Department’s spokesman, said.

At 11 a.m. Friday, the river level stood at 17.11 feet at Cedar Rapids. The National Weather Service continued to project a 19.9 foot crest about noon on Sunday.

The city’s Hershner noted that the Cedar River at Waterloo crested overnight upstream from Cedar Rapids and is now falling.

Hanson was estimating that river levels here would reach at least beyond 18 feet based on the crest at Waterloo.

Hanson added that more rain is expected today in the watershed. He noted, too, that the National Weather Service’s projection takes into account rain forecasts for the next 24 hours.

Hanson said the city’s emergency flood control actions are holding well, though some water is forming ponds in low-lying spots near the river. This is the result of storm sewer outlets to the river being closed off to prevent the river from flowing back into the storm sewer system.

The city is adding pumps and additional concrete structures around manholes today to prevent and tackle water in streets. This has occurred in New Bohemia, First Street NW and Eighth Street NW, he said.

Hanson applauded volunteers who descended on New Bohemia on Thursday and into Thursday night to fill and place sandbags around businesses there.

The city has established a temporary sandbag operation in New Bohemia, near Czech Village and at a third spot in the city.

Hanson said the Softball Hall of Fame at Ellis Park is the only city building expected for now to take on floodwater, but he said the contents of the building have been moved to high ground.

Mayor Ron Corbett said the city was taking on a "major flooding event.""We want our citizens to know we are on alert," he said.

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