Eight years after the flood

A number of projects are done, others are just getting started

Grasses blow in the wind on top of Mount Trashmore, overlooking the Cedar River and downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 6, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Grasses blow in the wind on top of Mount Trashmore, overlooking the Cedar River and downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 6, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In 2008 the Iowa and Cedar Rivers reached water levels Iowans had never seen before or since.

Across the state, flooding forced 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties to be declared as federal disaster areas and total statewide damage ultimately was estimated at $10 billion, according to the National Weather Service.

Three communities among the hardest hit by flooding were Cedar Rapids and the combined metropolitan area of Iowa City and Coralville, according to NWS.

Some areas within these communities battled 500-year flooding — that is, flood levels were so high, they have a .2 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in a given year or should statistically only occur once every 500 years, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Other areas experienced 100-year flooding, meaning they have a 1 percent chance of reaching or exceeding those heights in a given year.

In the months after the flood, discussions began in all three cities on securing riverfronts to ensure such an event never repeat itself.

Now eight years later, Iowa City is embarking on a massive flood mitigation effort in the Gateway Project, Cedar Rapids officials are about to take on the first piece of a $625 million flood protection system and, in Coralville, the final piece of the city’s flood mitigation is nearly underway.

Iowa City

Just as the city of Iowa City embarks on one of its largest flood mitigation projects, the University of Iowa is crossing the finish line with its 2008 recovery.


The Iowa River crested at 31.53 feet on June 15, 2008, with at-times 500-year flood stage levels. Since then, the University of Iowa and the city have been working to rebuild, repair and protect themselves from future flooding.

Iowa City has spent almost $138 million in flood mitigation projects. Ron Knoche, Iowa City’s director of public works, said flood recovery and mitigation for Iowa City took the form of two major projects — the wastewater plant relocation and the Gateway Project.

The larger project, relocation of the city’s north wastewater plant and consolidation with the south plant, cost about $63.4 million and is complete.

“I would say we’re further along than half today, from a project standpoint. From number of projects, we’re 90 percent complete,” Knoche said of flood-recovery overall. “From a dollar-amount standpoint, we’re probably closer to about 75 percent complete.”

The city began construction on May 31 on its other major mitigation project, the Gateway Project — an effort to raise Dubuque Street and the Park Road bridge up to a height that would protect against 100-year flood levels.

The city initially planned to raise the roads to protect it against 500-year floods but, Knoche said, the city changed the plan to only protect against 100-year levels after residents expressed concern over the potential height of Dubuque Street.

Construction on the $59.5 million Gateway Project is not scheduled to be complete until 2018.

Knocke said the city still hopes to work on more small mitigation projects, such as flood-proofing City Park, when money becomes available.

The UI saw $230 million in flood damage and cleanup costs. One-sixth of the UI’s campus closed while 20 of its major buildings — including Mayflower Residence Hall and the 300,000-square-foot Hancher-Voxman-Clapp music and art building — sustained damage.


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The university finished all its flood protection and repair projects. This summer the school is scheduled to complete the last of the replacement projects supported by FEMA, including Hancher Auditorium, a new art studio building and the Voxman Music Building.

More Flood Info: Iowa City

Day river crested: June 15, 2008

High water mark: 31.53 feet

Total cost of damage: $6.5 million (city property) and $230 million (university property)

Total cost of mitigation: $137.8 million (city) and $150 million (university estimate)

Cedar Rapids

Eight years after the 2008 flood, Cedar Rapids is preparing to install the first pieces of a $625 million flood protection system with levees, walls, gates and pump stations to protect property along the east and west banks from the Cedar River.

Two separate projects are slated to begin later this year at roughly the same time the contract process for two 2017 projects gets rolling.

“The reason you will see construction now is because the money is starting to come in,” said Rob Davis, Cedar Rapids flood control program manager. “We didn’t have a way to pay for it before.”

Funding hasn’t been fully identified for the entire 7.5-mile flood system, which includes 81 separate projects and may take 17 years to complete — by 2033 — Davis said. In light of funding uncertainty, the city shifted gears from a north-to-south construction plan to taking on what the city can tackle as it can pay for it, while addressing the most vulnerable areas first, he said.

That’s not to say Cedar Rapids hasn’t protected itself. The city has spent $79 million raising and repairing 45 wells so they don’t get inundated with water, which consumed all but one in 2008, making critical levee repairs, designs, moving key facilities out of harm’s way, and fortifying the wastewater pollution plant, Davis said. Another $52 million went for buyouts of flooded properties.

Projects this fall will be centered on the NewBo District and Czech Village.

Cedar Rapids signed a contract this spring for the first phase of the Parking Lot 44 pump station at 10th Avenue SE. It is one of four pump stations planned for the east side of the river and 11 total in the flood protection system.


The system with a brick housing, three pumps — one for redundancy — and a backup generator eventually could pump 36,000 gallons of water per minute. The initial $5.9 million project, which is scheduled to begin in October and end by early 2018, would erect the brick housing, install one pump and a backup generator.

Next up, the city plans to hire a contractor this summer to build a half-mile levee 100 feet wide at the base and standing 13-feet tall — in place of the existing six-foot-tall berm, Davis said. The levee, which would have a trail built on top, would separate the old Sinclair meatpacking plant site and the river, and run from the African-American Museum of Iowa to near the Alliant Energy substation. Tree clearing and building removal has already occurred, but additional site preparation is needed, Davis said.

The $11 million project due for construction from November 2016 to November 2017 will protect NewBo from a 40-year flood, Davis said. In a 40-year flood, the river reaches 21 feet, which still would be 10 feet below the record 2008 flood level, Davis said.

This fall, city officials will lay the groundwork for two additional projects.

The city will seek a company for a $4.1 million project to relocate sanitation, stormwater and water main pipes on the west side of the river in Czech Village. Utilities under a levee could compromise the system, Davis said.

A $5 million second phase of the Sinclair site system, which build about half of an eventual 10-acre stormwater detention basin and a second pump station, also is in queue for the fall.

Both projects are scheduled for construction from spring to fall 2017, according to city documents.

“We are starting on the downstream ones first because those projects will offer some interim protection for the east and west side of the river,” Davis said.

As part of a five-year plan, a Quaker Oats flood wall and Union Pacific Railroad floodgate, and a Time Check utility relocation project are slated for 2018. Levees for Czech Village and Time Check are scheduled to begin in 2019.

More Flood Info: Cedar Rapids

Day river crested: June 12, 2008

High water mark: 31.18 feet (gauging station near Eighth Avenue Bridge)

Total cost of damage: $2.4 billion


Total cost of mitigation: $131 million spent so far including $52.6 million for buyouts. The first pieces of a $625 million (adjusted for inflation) flood protection system is going up this year

Sources: City of Cedar Rapids, except damage cost comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


As with so many other communities along the Iowa River, Coralville was slammed by record level flooding in 2008.

On June 15 of that year, the Iowa River in nearby Iowa City crested at a record 31.53 feet. Major flood stage is 25 feet.

Ellen Habel, Coralville’s assistant city administrator, recalled the frustration felt by community members after efforts to sandbag went in vain.

“It was a strange time, we became so focused on trying to protect everything we could,” Habel said.

The flood caused $21 million in damage to more than 200 businesses and another $4.5 million to 400 households. City infrastructure took on another $7 million in damage.

As floodwater receded, Coralville officials decided to not let such an event happen again.

“We decided, ‘We’re going to build back better and we’re going to put in permanent flood protection,’” Habel said.


Since then, Coralville has embarked on close to $63 million in flood mitigation work, excluding flood buyout or FEMA public-assistance dollars.

Work has involved a number of efforts, including reconstructing and raising First Avenue Bridge over Clear Creek, reconstructing and elevating Fifth Street across Biscuit Creek and constructing flood protection along the Iowa River from Rocky Shore Drive to the north end of the Iowa River Power Company Restaurant. A number of earthen berms and flood stations also have been built.

Later this summer, Coralville officials plan to begin the final piece — an $8.6 million flood wall along the south side of Clear Creek from First Avenue to Highway 6 — which will close the city’s eight-year effort.

When the Clear Creek wall is finished, Coralville will be protected to one foot above a 100-year flood level. With the ability to add temporary walls in some places, the city easily will reach one foot above the 500-year level.

Habel said the city’s aggressive approach to flood protection has resonated with businesses and residents, who have returned to and reinvested in the area that sat underwater eight years ago.

“It’s something that really impacts the community as a whole, just our economy, our continued vibrancy,” she said. “You had to give people reassurance that they could reinvest or could go into those properties and not flood.”


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