Launch Slideshow

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Chasing the Crest

Chasing the Crest

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    Due to its convenient location, the capped Cedar Rapids-Linn County Landfill Site 1 was reopened to accept flood debris. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

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    Since wastewater was being discharged directly into the Cedar River, a key focus was on restoring primary treatment to remove suspended solids and floating debris. Sitting right in the middle of the Cedar River, the Veteran's Memorial Building on Mays Island suffered major damage, even to portions above the 500-year floodplain. Photo: Z-Comm

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    Keeping public order was the first priority. The receding waters revealed devastation reaching in excess of 10 square miles. The river reached beyond the 100- and 500-year floodplains to inundate homes and businesses, some to the top of the first floor. Photo: Z-Comm

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    “If you were to extrapolate the numbers in a nonscientific way, this could approximate a 2,000- to 3,000-year flood,” says Cedar Rapids Public Works Director Dave Elgin. Photo: City of Cedar Rapids

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    Slabs of asphalt were stockpiled after water pushed up through sections of some city streets. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

Using three donated loaders, city workers hauled away most of the debris within a month of the river's crest. Without the equipment, Watson estimates the effort would have taken 30% longer.

The next major challenge was figuring out where to unload all the debris.

The Cedar Rapids-Linn County Solid Waste Agency operates two landfills, but only one — which is a 50-mile round trip from downtown Cedar Rapids — was open.

Sitting idle at the epicenter of the flood was the other landfill, which was capped in 2006 with 285,000 cubic yards of capacity left. The site offered a much shorter hauling distance, quicker trash removal, fuel savings, and less truck interaction with the motoring public.

“Given the circumstances, the agency, along with local, state, and federal government, realized that reopening the landfill was the best alternative,” says Education Coordinator Stacie Johnson. The Department of Natural Resources granted an emergency, 90-day temporary permit within a week of the river's crest.

Within the first six weeks after the flood, 72,428 tons of debris — more than 40% of the typical yearly intake for Cedar Rapids — were sent to the landfill.

WATER THREATS

Along with debris removal, public works managers focused on getting essential city services back on line.

Although Cedar Rapids has a population of 125,000, its water and waste-water consumption is equivalent to a city of 1.2 million residents thanks to an industrial base that generates two-thirds of the city's wastewater.

The city's drinking water system consisted of four high-capacity wells that collect an average of 8.5 mgd of water each and 46 vertical wells that each collect 1 mgd. All of the vertical wells and three of the four collector wells were left inoperable by the flood.

The day before the floodwaters peaked, the last working collector well was also in jeopardy. “We mobilized 10,000 sand bags to the site and at 9:30 p.m. put out a call for volunteers via the local news stations, which were providing 24-hour flood coverage,” Hanson recalls. Within 45 minutes, more than 600 residents were in line, four deep and 100 yards long, to move and position sandbags. The well was saved, but the water supply was not yet secure.

With only one operating collector well, the city turned to the neighboring cities of Hiawatha and Marion, which have share mutual aid agreements for fire and police, for additional water resources. Cedar Rapids also provides wastewater treatment for the two suburbs, so even without a mutual aid agreement for water it was likely that they would provide additional water, Elgin says, adding that Cedar Rapids collected water from fire hydrants in the cities.

After tapping into these alternative water sources, Cedar Rapids was producing 13 mgd but using 39 million gallons. In a press conference, officials pleaded with residents and businesses to curtail usage while utility crews worked feverishly to get a second collector well on line.

As soon as the waters receded enough to reveal the structure of the second collector well, motors, components, and workers were airlifted to the site and got it back on line within a few days. By early August, 80% of water production capacity was back on line.