Public Safety

Cedar Rapids sweats another flood crest as the river nears 18 feet

Start of permanent flood protection system already helping

The Cedar River rises Tuesday at the Third Avenue Bridge in downtown Cedar Rapids. After Tuesday’s rain, the National Weather Service upped its prediction of the river crest to 17.9 feet, peaking overnight. That level is testing steps the city has undertaken so far to protect against a crest of up to 18 feet. Crews were planning to be out all night monitoring whether to add more protections. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Cedar River rises Tuesday at the Third Avenue Bridge in downtown Cedar Rapids. After Tuesday’s rain, the National Weather Service upped its prediction of the river crest to 17.9 feet, peaking overnight. That level is testing steps the city has undertaken so far to protect against a crest of up to 18 feet. Crews were planning to be out all night monitoring whether to add more protections. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar River is giving Cedar Rapids another close shave.

After a rainy Tuesday, the forecast crest inched upward from 17.5 to 17.9 feet — testing the city’s plan of protecting to the 18 foot level. The worst was expected overnight.

“We are monitoring the river levels very closely,” Emily Breen, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, said Tuesday. “If the crest goes above the 18 foot stage, additional measures will be taken and the city will send out additional information.”

She noted several division were staffing people through the night, including the sewer and traffic divisions.

“Staff will be monitoring failed plugs or pumps and watching Edgewood Road closely,” she said.

The river has been rising for days and crossed into major flood stage — 16 feet — on Monday evening. The river continued rising Tuesday.

But after cresting, it is forecast to quickly begin receding, drop below major flood stage Thursday and below action stage of 10 feet by Monday.

The storm sewer system has been closed to prevent the river from backing up and causing flooding from underground. Pumps in low-lying areas were activated to pump water into the river, Breen said.

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City and business leaders said the first permanent barriers of defense to flooding in Cedar Rapids already are paying dividends.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz pointed to the Sinclair levee, pump stations in NewBo and the McGrath Amphitheatre, which doubles as a berm, as examples of infrastructure investments helping in the flood fight.

“These are all coming together and making a difference,” he said. “At this point, we’d be sandbagging. The infrastructure saves time, dollars and stress on the community. Concern and anxiety to some degree is minimized.”

More than $20 million has been invested in permanent flood protection infrastructure in the city so far. The city recently announced a $264 million bond issue and property tax plan over the next 10 years to help complete the permanent protection system and further reduce reliance on temporary measures when the river floods.

While major damage has been avoided thus far, numerous roads and parks have been closed and sand wall barriers installed near the Cedar Rapids Police Station, among other protections.

The full flood control system is expected to protect the east and west sides of the river through the downtown and could cost $750 million over 20 years. State and federal sources are contributing.

Steve Shriver, who owns Brewhemia in NewBo and SOKO Outfitters in Czech Village, said he has trucks reserved in case they are needed for evacuation, and warehouse space for merchandise and inventory from both locations out of the flood zone.

But those locations were largely protected without additional measures.

“Not having to sandbag right now is a new dimension for us and takes a lot of stress out of the equation,” Shriver said. “It’s because the city’s flood infrastructure is working.”

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Shriver reiterated the strain flooding causes on local businesses. SOKO, 41 16th Ave. SW, has been open for only three weeks and “cannot afford an interruption.” And, even though flooding may not cause physical damage, he hopes news of flooding doesn’t keep people away from a grand opening Oct. 7.

Upstream in Vinton, the Cedar River crested at 17.49 feet about midnight Monday.

Mayor Bud Maynard said buyouts after the 2008 flood have greatly reduced the impact of flooding in Vinton.

When the river level there gets to about 16 feet, the primary impacts are low-level ground and out buildings. At 17.5 feet, a couple of intersections are closed.

More serious impact begins at an 18.5 foot river elevation, he said.

“Fortunately for most of Vinton, the impact of the river was minimal,” Maynard said. “Preparations have been ongoing for years to minimize the flooding impacts on the community. Floods

are measured in inches and we know how much a few inches higher can devastate a community. And we are quite satisfied to be on the short end this time.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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