The Ottumwa Courier

May 28, 2013

River watchers

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Local officials may always worry about floods but say they're a long way from panicking.

But problems around Wapello County have already started cropping up. On Monday night, authorities ordered the bridge at Valley Village temporarily closed due to flooding. On Tuesday, the county’s Secondary Roads Department announced that 118th Avenue from River Road back to 48th Street was closed due to flooding and possible damage to the bridge there.

Yet Tuesday, 120th Avenue, one of the first rural neighborhoods to flood most years, was open, dry and had its normal level of traffic. A landscaper was mowing a lawn, and a visitor was on the river bow fishing. Across the Des Moines River, homes on Rabbit Run Road could be seen comfortably enjoying a river-front view.

But it's not just the river that worries officials. Jerry Calnon, Jefferson County Emergency Management Coordinator, said Jefferson County does not have any towns directly on the Des Moines River. But record rains mean they have to watch out for those roads that tend to get washed out; most are passable now.

“We are watching, but it’s not like we’re sandbagging anything at the moment,” Calnon said.

And the city of Ottumwa is actually adding water to the river, though it's water that would have gone in there anyway.

City public information officer Tom Rodgers said the water residents see being pumped from the Hydro parking lot in the Des Moines River is "rain water that has fallen in town and is basically trapped inside the levee."

Normally, that rain water leaves the city and shoots out a tunnel into the river. But the doors at the river end of the tunnel had to be shut, otherwise the rising river would enter the tunnel and fill up the storm sewer system. So with those doors closed, water has to leave town another way, hence, the pumps.

"We do see some heavy rains produce isolated flash flooding in town," Rodgers said. "There’s not a lot you can do to fight that particular battle."

Heavy rains do effect the river, however. Rodgers said information he receives from the Army Corps of Engineers shows surges to 10 feet, which, after the rains end, drop back down to about 8 feet. At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the level was at 9.99 feet.

"We’re not even to flood stage, which is 11 feet," he said. "The levee protects us up to 25 feet. We would have a long, long way to go before we’re looking at flooding within the city."

Eldon, which has suffered when floods hit, is ready but not panicking.

“At this point we know we have a supply of bags and can quickly obtain sand if needed,” said Mayor Shirley Stacey. “You play the wait-and-see game. We’ve got a few feet before it goes over [the banks of the Des Moines] River.”

That wait-and-see game does involve active observation. Stacey had already been by to check the river itself on Tuesday and was monitoring weather forecasts.

“It depends a lot on how much rain they receive north of us,” the Eldon mayor said, “not just here.”

Overall, said Josh Stevens, the Emergency Management coordinator for Wapello County, officials are watching.

"One of the things we’re keeping an eye on is what the reservoirs are doing. We watch Saylorville to see what they’ll send to Red Rock. Because when Red Rock fills up, they have to release water to the river."