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Flood mitigation plan nearly ready

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | FEBRUARY 16, 2009 7:50 AM

Despite the ominous presence of lake-size puddles and 3-inch blankets of snow, updates to flood-response plans make the UI and Iowa City ready to face the spring thaw, officials said.

Last fall, the UI created the Flood-Mitigation Task Force to research and recommend changes to the university’s response plan, which would allow the school to react more quickly and effectively during a flood, said Don Guckert, the UI associate vice president for Facilities Management.

“We want to put all those lessons we learned into operational practice for this year and beyond,” he said.

The plan — on schedule to be updated by the end of next month — lays out an action plan that coordinates the river’s flow rate at the Coralville Dam with the necessary actions to protect vulnerable UI buildings.

“If there is 10,000 cubic feet per second, we will know what that means for our campus,” Guckert explained. With the river data, officials will be able to predict how high to build a sandbag wall or which floors in certain buildings should be cleared out.

In addition, the updates call for more structure in the Facilities Management staff. Guckert said staff members will be assigned certain buildings to monitor and specific roles to perform in the event a flood hits.

This increased organization also includes an equipment evaluation that would ensure the UI has on hand or in ready access the proper supplies to deal with rising waters. Guckert added scrambling to get the necessary equipment was a challenge last summer.

But ultimately, fate lies in the hands of Mother Nature.

“I don’t know what preparations can be done other than keep an eye on the weather,” said Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For the Corps, building a protection project to reinforce the area against severe flooding would take time, money, and effort, he said, adding it’s not something that can be created in six to eight months.
The process, which begins with a request to the Corps by the Iowa City City Council to study flood-control measures, requires two to three years of study before the proposal can pass to Washington, D.C. If Congress approves the plan, funding must then be agreed upon before the Corps can begin the building process, Fournier explained.

In the best-case scenario, the entire process — from council request to project completion — might be finished within six years. More likely though, it would be 15 to 20 years before the finishing touches would be in place, Fournier said.

Fournier could not say if an official request for a study has been made, but he said the Corps is not making any changes from its 2008 operations.

“We operated perfectly,” he said in reference to their actions during the flood.

At this point, Larry Weber, director of the Iowa Institute of Hydrology Research and co-chairman of UI Flood-Mitigation Task Force, agreed the duty of UI officials to take the lead and decide on a flood mitigation plan. Once that has been outlined, the Corps can begin its part of the work.

While Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse assured he does not see indications this year is worse than any other year, some are still not ready to put their guard down.

“We’re going to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Guckert said.


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