The Ottumwa Courier

April 20, 2013

Ottumwa dries out

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The first high water event of the 2013 flood season appears to be over for now.

“The rivers have crested, and now they’re falling,” said Perry Thostenson, assistant operations manager at the Lake Red Rock dam.

Around noon Friday, he said the Army Corps of Engineers was making plans to release some of the water they had held back recently. It’s pretty rare, he said, but the corps enacted its “flash flood” protocol to protect downstream communities.

“Conditions necessitated the [change],” Thostenson said.

It’s not unusual to release 7,500 cubic feet per second of water into the Des Moines River as it heads toward Wapello County. On Wednesday, they dropped back more than 90 percent, to only release 500 cfs.

“We’re looking to increase the flow here in about half-an-hour,” he said Friday. “The Ottumwa gauge is dropping like a rock and should be below flood stage in a couple hours. It’ll be our intent to keep it below flood stage."

The release at Red Rock will go from 500 cfs to 5,000 cfs. The flow increase should be noticeable in Wapello County around 5 a.m. today.

Perry Thostenson said they’re able to make the adjustment because the Des Moines River is withdrawing back into its banks so rapidly.

Chuck Craver, a local resident, had his dog with him while inspecting 120th Avenue just after 1 p.m. Friday.

“Oh, it’s definitely gone down,” said Craver, looking at the road. “I left Wednesday night around 10:15. The water was just starting to come up over the road.”

But after lunch Friday, the water was just starting to recede; you can almost see the road, pointed out another man. Craver said some drivers have actually been on the street. The county engineer has warned motorists not to cross streets when they can’t see the road surface.

At 120th, Craver, an avid outdoorsman who is aware of the challenges as well as benefits of living on the river, showed where the water was rapidly moving. The river water in the neighborhood isn’t the kind that puddles. This is water pouring over the sides of the road; it's moving water that can sweep away objects ranging from lawn ornaments to the cars of unwary motorists.

Besides being in a low area, one of the problems faced by neighbors, especially across the Des Moines River on Rabbit Run Road, is being on a sharp turn in the river. The water from Red Rock is going straight and fast, and when it’s high like it has been, it washes right over the corner river bank. There’s nothing much to do about that, but a breach in the levee across from Riverside Restaurant is possibly repairable, Craver said. If the levee was fixed, he believes, his street wouldn’t be underwater when the river stage was 14 or 16 feet. Past 18 feet or so, he acknowledged, “everybody is in trouble.”

But not right now. The corps is confident.

“There’s plenty of storage [here]. At this time, we’ve used 15.8 percent of our flood storage,” Thostenson said. “Our hydrologist works very closely with the weather service … there should be no worries.”