Ottumwa flooding

Flooding from the Des Moines River has forced people out of homes along the riverbank in Ottumwa, though many say they made plans for their responses after going through previous floods. The river was forecast to crest at around 18 feet, which would be a top-10 crest for the location. (Matt Milner/Ottumwa Courier)

OTTUMWA — Wapello County may have caught a much-needed break as the Des Moines River crested two feet lower than originally expected, and new forecasts show the river level may stay below expectations.

The original forecast was for an 18.5-foot crest in Ottumwa, which would have been in the top 10 floods of all time. But the crest, at least for now, reached to 16.28 feet. It also arrived earlier than expected, before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Forecasters now expect the river to remain at around 15 feet for the foreseeable future, a foot lower than prior estimates.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has declared a disaster in Wapello County due to the flooding, opening access to the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program. The program offers grants of up to $5,000 for households that make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $41,560 for a family of three. The grants can be used for home or car repairs, temporary housing, or replacement of clothing and food.

The declaration also starts the clock on grants. People have up to 45 days from the date of the proclamation to apply. Information about the program is available at https://dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

Residents hit by the flooding may also take advantage of the Disaster Case Management program, which assigns managers to work with people on a recovery plan. The managers also provide guidance, advice and referrals. That program has no income eligibility limits, but it closes 180 days after the proclamation. Information is available at iowacommunityaction.org.

Steps by the city may also provide an option. Ottumwa’s city-owned campground is open free of charge to Wapello County flood victims whose primary residences are on the Des Moines River or an area that was flooded. The campground will be available until emergency management personnel declare it safe for flood victims to return home.

Whether this winds up being a real break depends heavily on Mother Nature, and not just in the Ottumwa area. Rains here can raise the river quickly, but once the runoff flows downstream it’s over. Of more concern could be rain further upstream, where the dams at Saylorville Lake and Lake Red Rock are holding back far more water than usual. If the lake levels rise, so will releases from those dams.

Ottumwa received more than nine inches of rain in May, and 3.22 inches this week alone. That was capped by a stunning 1.74 inches on Tuesday, rain that created serious issues for roads and already drenched fields.

More rain is in the forecast, but less than what the past week brought. The National Weather Service gives Ottumwa a 50 percent chance of storms Saturday. That’s the only day until early next week with a significant chance.

A wet pattern may resume next Tuesday, though. And, with river levels still high, that will be something Wapello County watches carefully.

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