Eastern Iowa cities get good news about flood
IOWA CITY (AP) — Eastern Iowa communities fighting Iowa River flooding received good news Monday after a new projection showed Coralville Lake is less likely to top its emergency spillway.
The lake, six miles north of Iowa City, will crest Thursday under 710 feet, two feet below the spillway, according to the projection from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While some homes, streets and parks were already flooded, residents and public officials said they were cautiously optimistic the new forecast meant they would be spared the devastation that hit the area during the record flood of 2008.
“Hopefully, it will just turn out to be a big annoyance rather than a huge disaster,” Iowa City resident Jon Ozeroff said as he stood outside his home along flood-inundated Normandy Drive.
Ozeroff said that he was declining the city's request to voluntarily evacuate his home, for now, because waters had not reached inside. He said he had to rebuild his basement after it was flooded in 2008, but unlike most of his neighbors, he declined a government buyout and stayed put.
Gov. Terry Branstad viewed the high waters Monday in parts of eastern Iowa by airplane before visiting with officials in Coralville and Iowa City, who assured him their flood defenses were holding. He told reporters he was "very encouraged" by the Coralville Lake forecast.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the dam at Coralville Lake, which was built as a flood-control barrier for the Iowa River in the 1950s, and manages how much water leaves its reservoir to minimize flooding. When the water tops the spillway, it becomes harder to control and can lead to devastating floods not only in nearby Coralville and Iowa City but in other cities downstream, such as Columbus Junction, about 40 miles south.
The spillway has only been breached twice in its history: the 1993 and 2008 floods, which inflicted still-lingering damage.
Just days ago, the Corps had warned the lake would top the spillway this week by more than a foot. In response, the Corps slowly increased the amount of water being released into the river and anxious volunteers spent the weekend sandbagging homes and businesses.
But several days of dry weather in the Iowa River basin led to the improved forecast, said Johnson County emergency management spokesman Terrence Neuzil.
“The news keeps getting better,” he said. “As long as we don't have any significant rain come into the area or into the Iowa River basin, we're holding steady here in Johnson County.”
Still, he cautioned that the river — already over flood stage at nearly 25 feet in Iowa City — will remain high for several days. Officials were also closely monitoring forecasts that called for possible rain today through Thursday.
Neuzil said that about 30 homes and buildings in the county were already inundated with water, causing an estimated $2 million in damage, and another 30 were vulnerable. Many of the property owners that were hardest hit live in unincorporated areas and have refused to have their homes bought out after being damaged in the 2008 flood, he said.
The county has issued mandatory evacuations for four neighborhoods, covering about 30 residents, Neuzil said. Officials in Iowa City recommended evacuations for about 10 additional homes over the weekend.
At least a handful of Johnson County residents have refused to evacuate, even though the utility company has shut off their electricity and gas, he said.
Neuzil said the sheriff's office has also warned residents that they might not be able to be rescued in an emergency, but was not removing them by force at this point.
Branstad spoke on a bridge over the river on the University of Iowa campus, where workers have deployed seven miles of flood barriers to protect buildings. The university is still rebuilding major theatre, arts and music buildings that were inundated and destroyed in the 2008 flood.
President Sally Mason said the school had suffered minor damage to areas, such as sidewalks and green space where the barriers were erected, but none to buildings so far.
Cedar Rapids, a city about 30 miles north which was also devastated by 2008 flooding, also escaped major damage. The Cedar River started falling after cresting Sunday at 18.23 feet, tied for its tenth highest recorded elevation, and was forecast to go below the 12-foot flood stage Wednesday.