116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Rainey Manes left her home in Wisconsin at 5 a.m. Thursday to drive four hours to sift through damp wreckage at her property on Grande Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids.
Manes, 37, welled up with tears as she sorted through destroyed items like old plush toys and pictures that had been moved from the basement to the curb that morning. Her husband already had traveled to Cedar Rapids on Tuesday to replace the washer and dryer and fix the water heater and furnace, she said.
'When it happens, you think this is a fluke. It can't be this bad again, so you put things back,' Manes said, noting this was the sixth time the basement has taken on significant water since 2008. 'Ideally, what I'd like to see is a discussion with the city about how we fix this problem.'
A severe storm the previous weekend inundated the sanitary sewer system causing flooding in several basements in the Grande Avenue area, including more than 2 feet of water in Manes' basement. Neighbors have been calling or emailing city officials urging them to do something about the flooding problems.
Flooding has become a recurring issue in this area and neighbors say it's a problem the city should address. Flash flooding inundated the storm sewer system a few years ago turning Grande Avenue into a river, destroying several vehicles — including two belonging to Manes. Some neighbors have replaced appliances, including furnaces, multiple times.
Dave Wallace, sewer utility engineering manager in the city's public works department, has been responding to messages.
'There is no short-term, easy fix because what we are dealing with is the underground piping system,' Wallace said.
The sanitary sewer system, which carries wastewater away from homes and businesses, is made up of about half private pipes that lead into the other half the system — the city's sanitary sewer mainlines. The system flows for treatment to the Water Pollution Control Center near Bertram.
In both cases — public and private — the lines are aging and deteriorating, Wallace said. Groundwater can seep into cracks in pipes and manhole covers adding to the burden on the system, he said.
Another issue contributing to the problems is that some of the homes in the neighborhood have their own stormwater systems tied into the city's sanitary sewer lines, Wallace said.
Many of the homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s and these connections no longer are permitted, he added, noting stormwater is supposed to be discharged into yards.
Wallace said a typical 8-inch sanitary sewer pipe should be able to serve between 100 and 300 homes with normal wastewater discharge. However, pipes that also must handle stormwater discharge can be inundated by just 30 homes.
City officials are exploring a program to encourage residents to disconnect stormwater drains from the sanitary sewer system and also to replace their private sanitary pipe if defective, Wallace said. It is likely to be costly, and city officials are still studying how best to handle it, he added.
In the meantime, residents are encouraged to install backwater valves, and there's an $800 city rebate available, Wallace said. The backwater valve would prevent water from flowing back into people's basements when the sanitary sewer system becomes inundated, he said.
'The backwater valve is a potential short-term fix,' he said.
Bob Grafton, who owns a home in the 1800 block of Grande Avenue SE, was airing out his basement on Thursday where muck still is stuck to the floor and a dank odor lingers. Evidence of past damage can be seen in the drywall, which has been ripped out to create 3 1/2 feet of separation from the floor. He is no longer eligible for insurance for sewer backups given his home's history, he said.
'The city has had ample time to address the problem and now they are passing the blame onto homeowners,' Grafton said, adding he priced out a backflow system and it came in at $4,000.
Grafton is concerned the flooding could take down the strong, engaged neighborhood. At least one of his neighbors was considering moving after the latest flooding episode, he said.
Grande Avenue SE also is on a slope and the upper end of the roadway lacks stormwater intakes causing rain to run down and accumulate more heavily at the lower part of the road, Grafton said. City officials had been planning storm sewer improvements as part of a Paving for Progress street improvement project from Crescent Street SE to Bever Park.
Some residents in the area pushed back saying the project could disturb the beauty and historic nature of the area.
Doug Wilson, the Paving for Progress manager, said the project has been removed from the slate and shifted to a stormwater project, but it has not been scheduled.
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