[By Marcia Milner-Brage, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA]
Perhaps you saw on the news that the Cedar River in eastern Iowa flooded my town of Cedar Falls. It crested on Saturday, September 24th, at 98.8 feet, almost 11 feet above flood stage. It was the second highest flood on record, after the one in June 2008 which crested at 102.1 feet.
The 2008 flood was deemed a "500 Year Flood". It was supposed to be an infrequent occurrence. Guess not. Global warming and poor floodplain management policies are thought to be contributing causes. In 2008, there was extensive flood damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. But in the years since, much has been done citywide to be better prepared. Earthen dikes were erected around downtown, the Cedar Falls Utilities coal burning facility, and the sewage treatment plant. Concrete flood walls with movable floodgates were added in strategic areas on the south side of the river.
On Friday, the river rose rapidly. There had been heavy rains in the days and weeks before, even heavier upriver. Nobody knew how much the river would swell beyond its banks. The floodgates were closed. In the drawing above, see the right diagonal supports, bracing the floodgate near the railroad tracks that lead to the coal yard. Washington Park, a riverfront green space, is on the other side of the rail cars beyond the floodgate. On Saturday when I drew this, water had seeped under, covering some tracks and the bike trail. But that was minimal compared to the water that had inundated the park.
The park entrance is beyond where the low and high concrete walls come together in the above drawing. That floodgate was also closed on the Friday before the crest. But that was not enough: bulldozers mounded earth against the flood walls and gate. And to further protect the nursing home that is unseen to the left, a huge, blue plastic, water bladder dam was placed. Night and day, Friday and Saturday and Sunday, city workers monitored the rising water at this and other strategic points along the river's raging path through the city.
It is days after the crest. The river has receded. The floodwater moved downriver to Cedar Rapids and beyond. Most of the sandbags have been removed. The floodgates are still closed. I don't think I'll be walking or biking in Washington Park any time soon. Homes, businesses and parks on the north side of the river, unable to be protected by dikes and flood walls, did suffer similar destruction as in 2008. There is a huge cleanup job to do. Though many feel Cedar Falls dodged the worst this time, compared to 2008. All the endeavors I've described worked, minimizing the flood damage. Keeping the floodwater out was a heroic effort.