Public Safety

River expected to crest at nearly 20 feet Sunday in Cedar Rapids

Third major flood threat in the past month

Ducks and a goose wade in floodwater in Manhattan Park/Robbins Lake Park along Ellis Road Northwest in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Ducks and a goose wade in floodwater in Manhattan Park/Robbins Lake Park along Ellis Road Northwest in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The most severe flood forecast of this already flood-prone fall is predicted this weekend for the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.

The river is forecast to reach major flood stage — 16 feet — Thursday and crest at 19.7 feet Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

At that high level, the river threatens the New Bohemia District and the Time Check neighborhood and encroaches on the underside of a number of bridges.

“This could be a bigger threat than what we’ve seen previously,” said Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids’ public works director. “But there is uncertainty in what we’ve seen in the forecast. It could go up or down.”

Outside of Cedar Rapids, the Coralville Lake Reservoir is expected to crest just below the 712-foot mark, at which point it tops the spillway. It is forecast to hit 711.43 next Monday, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Johnson County officials have signed a local disaster declaration and were expected to seek a state disaster declaration to be eligible for state assistance. Flash floods overnight Friday and Saturday caused ongoing “damage to public roadways, parks and private property,” according to a news release from Johnson County Emergency Management.

“The entire region is wet,” said Andy Ervin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Davenport. “The ground is very saturated. In fact, it can’t be any more saturated. Virtually all of that rainwater will run off into streams and tributaries. ... All of them are at risk of flooding.”

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In addition to the Cedar, sections of the Des Moines, Skunk, Iowa, English, Wapsipinicon, Maquoketa, Turkey and Mississippi rivers all are predicted to flood at the moderate to major levels in the next week, Ervin said.

The flood forecast considers past precipitation and the forecast for the next 48 hours.

Thunderstorms and showers are in the seven-day forecast for Cedar Rapids and communities upstream on the Cedar, including Cedar Falls and Charles City, according to weather service predictions.

The Cedar River basin could see an additional 1.5 to 2 inches of rainfall by Wednesday, Ervin said. The good news, he said, is that the heaviest rainfall is predicted in the early part of the week and that already is taken into account in the river level projections.

“Any time we are talking about a river forecast a week away, it should be viewed with a certain amount of uncertainty,” he said.

In Cedar Rapids, crews are preparing for the third flood in less than a month. They began making preparations Monday for flooding in the most vulnerable locations, including plugging storm sewers, and staging water pumps and material for barriers, Winter said.

The city’s boat ramps are scheduled to close at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

By midweek, the focus will shift from preventing flooding from underground storm and sanitary sewers to preventing aboveground flooding with sand barriers and temporary berm protections along the 12th Avenue Bridge and behind the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Winter said.

The plan is to build protections to the 20-foot level, but that could change with the forecast, Winter said.

The response initially will be similar to the previous two flooding episodes this fall, and more protections likely will be added as the week progresses, she said.

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The river crested at 15.55 feet on Sept. 10 and 17.94 feet on Sept. 26, which ranked as the 14th most severe flood in the city’s recorded history.

Rain in the forecast will require the temporary water pumps to collect rain water and pump it back into the river because the storm drains will be plugged, Winter said. At this point, the city does not anticipate the need for sandbagging stations or volunteer help, but things could change, she said.

Because of the heavy load of work beyond the normal scope of duties, some scheduled work — such as maintenance and some street projects — has gotten backed up.

But crews remain up to the task of flood protection, which requires round-the-clock staffing, Winter said.

“Staff understands how critical this is and that this is our job,” she said.

Road closures because of the river level include Otis Road SE between Cargill and the Prairie Park Fishery, but more can be expected as the river rises. Check online at Cedar-Rapids.org for the latest updates.

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

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