River Communities in Iowa Bracing for Spring Floods

By Nigel Duara | March 10, 2009

The impact won’t be clear for a couple of days, but major flooding along two eastern Iowa rivers has local and county officials preparing for the worst.

The major floods of last summer left a lasting impression on the eastern part of the state, one its residents are not eager to repeat.

But as a weekend of steady drizzle turns into major flooding along the Iowa and English rivers, Louisa County Emergency Management Coordinator Staci Griffin said emergency responders are “in limbo.”

“There’s definitely the potential for some major impacts,” Griffin said, noting it was likely too early to tell on Sunday what damage would be wrought when the rivers flooded their banks. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode right now.”

Griffin said that while the flooding poses a danger to fragile communities just now trying to rebuild from the devastation of the 2008 floods, the farmland and property damaged last summer may be able to withstand whatever the flooding brings.

“The levels are not quite so high (as in 2008),” Griffin said as she toured the county. “The property already sitting in a damaged state probably won’t get damaged much more.”

But Griffin said those trying to rebuild are watching the water closely.

The National Weather Service said more than a day of rain on saturated or frozen ground has led to the flooding, and people in low-lying areas around the state were warned to move to higher ground.

Flood warnings remained in effect on Monday for rivers and tributaries across central and eastern Iowa.

“We have most of the rivers in this end of the state out of their banks or forecast to go over their banks,” said Dan Ferry, a meteorologist with the weather service in Davenport.

Ferry said Monday that he had not heard of any widespread evacuations, and mostly farm land was being affected.

In Iowa City, water was knee-deep in a mobile home park on Sunday after nearby ditches filled up, and the storm drains couldn’t handle all the water.

Residents used sump pumps to keep the water away from their homes and moved their vehicles to higher ground.

Water was lapping at the second step of Rod Macomber’s mobile home.

“Every time we get a good rain it just pours under my trailer,” he said.

In Wellman, a man was treated for hypothermia after his pickup truck ended up in a flooded ditch on Sunday. A firefighter who rescued the man also was treated.

The weather service forecasts major flooding along the Iowa River in Wapello, Lone Tree, Marengo and Columbus Junction, as well as at the English River near Kalona.

The weather service say the floodwaters will rise about 5 feet above flood stage until late next week.

John Hinsberger of the National Weather Service said a low-pressure system “pumped up a lot of moisture” and hung over the area during the weekend before it was forecast to push northeast to Chicago and Michigan late Sunday.

“Once it’s over Lake Michigan the system should be significantly diminished,” Hinsberger said.

Major and moderate flooding also closed several state highways and county roads, including state Highway 30 in Scott County west of Plainview and state Highway 92 west of Oskaloosa. Portions of state Highway 6 and state Highway 9 were also closed because of high water.

The weather service says the English River will be 5 feet above flood stage until Tuesday, and the Iowa River will be between 4 and 5 feet above flood stage until late next week.

In Kalona, the English River was predicted to reach 19.7 feet by Tuesday morning, above the 14-foot flood stage, before falling back below flood stage on Wednesday morning. By Sunday night, it had already flooded its banks at 18.42 feet.

In Wapello, the weather service predicted floodwaters to reach 25.7 feet, above the 20-foot flood stage. The floodwaters aren’t predicted to recede until next weekend.

The river was predicted to reach 19 feet in Lone Tree, above the 15-foot flood stage, and stay there until Wednesday night.

The Iowa River near Columbus Junction was predicted to reach 23.9 feet by Tuesday morning, above the 19-foot flood stage. The weather service predicts the water will fall back by Thursday night.

The Iowa River near Marengo was expected to reach a moderate flood stage of 18.2 feet, 4 feet above its 14-foot flood stage. The river was expected to return below its flood stage on Friday.

The weather service said widespread rain of between 1.5 inches and 2.5 inches has fallen since early Saturday morning on saturated or frozen ground. Moderate to heavy rain will drench parts of eastern Iowa before the system pushes through the state late Sunday afternoon.

Compared to last summer, the weather outlook for potential flooding appears far more favorable. In 2008, national flood specialist Bob Holmes with the U.S. Geological Survey said there was “the perfect setup” for severe flooding.

That winter’s meltoff from massive snowstorms in the Upper Mississippi Valley elevated the Mississippi and its tributaries. Persistent rains saturated the soil. All of it came to a head in June, when a storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in some stretches of Iowa.

Forecasters warn that, though this was a comparably milder winter, a significant amount of rain always poses the danger of severe floods.

The weather service warned that even though the rain will stop south of Interstate Highway 80, creeks, streams and some rivers will continue to flood.

Topics Flood Iowa

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