Coralville Lake 'holding steady'

Forecast slightly better Thursday

Justin Wan/The Gazette

Construction workers, including Ivan Lozano (far right), prepare sandbags near water plant in
Justin Wan/The Gazette Construction workers, including Ivan Lozano (far right), prepare sandbags near water plant in Iowa City on Wednesday.

IOWA CITY — Susan Fahey admittedly has a gloomy outlook on the latest flood threat to her Iowa City home.

“If it was (like) last year, I’d be OK with it,” she said.

Last year, up to 18 inches of water got in the garage of the home she shares with Jim White along the Iowa River on Taft Speedway Street.

That was better than the 3 feet of water that breached their home, which is higher than the garage and above the 100-year flood mark, in the record flood of 2008.

On Thursday afternoon, the river passed about 10 feet from the rear of their home and was creeping closer.

The neighbor on one side had water surrounding his home. The other neighbor already had moved her possessions out.

Whether Fahey, 72, gets an outcome she can accept remains to be seen.

The biggest question remains Coralville Lake, the body of water formed by a dam built to ease flooding on the Iowa River.

The Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it expected the lake to crest at 711.3 feet above sea level on July 11, just below the 712-foot height of the emergency spillway. That’s down from Wednesday’s projection of 711.5 feet.

“We’re holding steady ... and that is good news,” Terrence Neuzil, a Johnson County supervisor and spokesman for the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said at a Thursday news conference.

The lake was at 704 feet at the most recent measurement. It’s normal height this time of year is 683 feet.

The corps was letting water out of the lake at 15,200 cubic feet per second Thursday morning, and it was going to start increasing that to 18,000 cfs. Greater outflow means higher river levels downstream.

The corps reported that water was going into the lake at 31,000 cfs, Neuzil said. That difference between inflow and outflow is why the lake is rising.

Inflow is expected to dip to around 25,000 cfs over the next few days, but then another increase will come as water from the Iowa River, which hit record heights in Marshalltown and Tama, makes it way to the lake, Neuzil said.

Localized rain

Officials said it will be weeks before they are at ease, and that’s with good weather.

The current forecast calls for chances of rain Saturday through Wednesday — but where exactly it will fall and how much is unclear, said Justin Gehrts, KCRG-TV9 meteorologist.

That’s because the rain is expected to be localized rather than widespread, he said.

Rainfall is a concern not just around Coralville Lake but anywhere upstream in the Iowa River basin, which feeds into the lake.

With localized rain, just 20 miles could make a big difference if it fell outside the river basin, Gehrts said.

“So the risk of some locally heavy rain is there, and how it affects the basin remains to be seen,” he said.

In addition to the flood-protection measures local governments already have undertaken — including temporary barriers, street and trail closures, and small-scale mandatory and recommended evacuations — Iowa City barricaded Lower City Park Thursday. The Iowa River runs through the park.

“I’ve seen, myself, kids walking around the waters,” city spokeswoman Shannon McMahon said.

Upper City Park and the public pool were operating as normal, she said.

After initially considering a change in location, Iowa City officials decided to keep the July 5 fireworks show at Hubbard Park on the University of Iowa campus.

The UI expected all of its flood preparations to be complete Thursday afternoon, spokesman Joe Brennan said. Officials will monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.

The school’s water and power plants are protected with sandbags, and additional measures are being taken in the utility tunnels, he said.

With the July Fourth holiday a busy time for water recreation, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer supervisor Shawn Meier said safety should be the top priority statewide.

“May not be doing the tubing,” he said. “May not be doing the skiing.”

Johnson County has banned activities on the water downstream of the Coralville Lake dam. A look at the Iowa River near Taft Speedway shows why.

The current was swift, and logs were common. A large tree was wedged under Fahey and White’s dock.

The 2008 flood caused significant damage to their home. Last year, water destroyed the lawn. They brought in several dozen loads of dirt and planted new grass, which for now is green.

They also elevated the air-conditioning units outside the house.

And yet, here they were again, dealing with a flood for the third time in six years.

“I don’t think you ever get used to it,” Fahey said.

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