Flooding chance lowered, report shows

BY JOSEPH BELK | MARCH 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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Local victims of flooding in 2008 are remaining optimistic after a spring outlook released by the National Weather Service decreased the potential of flooding in Iowa City.

The March 5 release indicated a drop of a few percentage points in flood chances. However, the report noted that high soil moisture and levels of snowpack are adding to a “greater than normal” chance of flooding.

Mild temperatures and weather conditions have prevented rapid snowmelt — ideal conditions to avoid a flood.

“I think we would be foolish not to think about it,” said Mary Sturm, who lives on Eastmoor Drive which flooded in 2008. “It’s always going to be on our minds because we’ve been through it and lost a great deal.”

As the “Block Captain” of Eastmoor Drive, she tries to stay informed with the city and about any preventative measures for flooding.

“I’m a professional nag,” Sturm said. “If something isn’t getting done that should be getting done, we notify the city.”

She also stays in contact with the neighborhood, acting as a source of information and occasionally distributing newsletters.

Currently, snowmelt has not proved to be an issue at the Coralville Reservoir.

“We haven’t seen a lot of increase in the amount of water coming in yet,” said John Castle, Army Corps of Engineers operations manager at the Reservoir. “It’s going slowly, which is the way we really like it to go.”

However, rain projected in the coming days could change things, he said. High temperatures and lots of rainfall could melt snow too quickly and could create a flood.

Heavy winter snowfall and spring rains paved the way for major flooding in 2008.

But to monitor future flooding, river stage sensors developed by University of Iowa engineering students will be installed in the coming months.

UI engineering Professor Witold Krajewski said he and his group are in the process of closing a deal with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to install 50 of the devices to the underside of bridges.

Though the sensors do not provide all of the information that stations operated by the U.S. Geological Survey can, Krajewski said, the devices are less expensive. Each sensor costs about $3,000, compared to the roughly $20,000 U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge, in addition to thousands of dollars in yearly operating costs. There are more than 150 stream gauges in Iowa.

Krajewski said the sensors are easy to repair, install, and collect data for the most relevant variable — water levels.

A website that will display data provided by the sensors may be available this summer.

Eastmoor Drive resident Debbie Sass said she had some concern about flooding this year but ultimately did not think it would happen again.

“In 2008, all the stars were in alignment,” she said. “The snow was in the street for eons.”

Though optimistic, Sass said, she has an evacuation plan in the event of future flooding. Two years ago, she said she was not notified very early about the need to leave her home before ending up in a motel.

“We’re going to make sure everyone in our neighborhood knows,” Sass said.

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