Northeastern Iowa flash flood waters higher than 2008 levels

Flood waters rose above many bridges along the Upper Iowa River this week. (Michael Massa/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 26, 2016

Iowans have seen their fair share of extreme rain events this summer. This week, three northeastern counties were drenched again.

Between six and eight inches of rain fell on Winneshiek, Chickasaw, Allamakee counties over Tuesday night as a series of thunderstorms moved through the area. Upper Iowa River gauges indicated that the river rose more than ten feet overnight near Decorah, Iowa. The area was pelted with almost an inch of rain per hour from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Residents in Freeport, a small community just east of Decorah, were hit especially hard. Those living along the Upper Iowa River received little notice. Emergency officials notified the neighborhood at about 5 a.m., after much of the flooding had already occurred.

“I woke up this morning when my neighbor called me and said ‘You out of bed yet?’ and I said no and he said, ‘Well you better get up,’ because the water was up to his deck,” said Ron Teslow of Freeport. Teslow had more than three feet of water standing in his basement, and he was more fortunate than others. Jon Aske, also of Freeport, said his basement collapsed in on itself as a result of the flooding, “About 4:15, 4:30 (Wednesday morning) we just heard a crash and the basement foundation crashed in,” he recalled. An emergency shelter was established at a local church for those that were flooded out of their homes.

In Fort Atkinson, a town twenty minutes south of Freeport,  Rogers Creek, a tributary of Turkey River, was reported to have risen nine feet in three hours. City officials said that they expected the Turkey River to crest more than a foot above the 2008 flood levels later Wednesday afternoon. Mayor Paul Herold wondered, “If they’re going to call that a 500 year flood, what are they going to call this?”

Decorah City Manager Chad Bird said the situation was the same in his town.”In some areas of town, the water was higher today than it was in ‘08,” he said referring to the 2008 floods. He pointed out, however, that this flood was due to flash flood conditions whereas the 2008 incident was a prolonged flooding event.

One causality has been reported after a car was swept off the roadway by water from the Turkey River in Chickasaw County early Wednesday morning. Flood warnings stayed in effect until Thursday for most of Northeast Iowa. Richland and Crawford counties of Wisconsin were also effected.

Iowa communities hopeful as water levels recede

Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr
Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr

Despite heavy rainfall in Iowa over the past weeks that has taken its toll on the state, some Iowa communities are remaining cautiously optimistic that the storm may have passed.

Coralville Lake is currently expected to crest at 711.3 feet, just below the spillway, and the Cedar River is already beginning to recede. Additionally, temporary fortifications along with those installed since the flood of 2008 have lessened damage in Coralville and Iowa City.

However, it is hard to predict whether or not communities are out of harm’s way, since meteorologists predict that next week’s forecasted rain will be localized.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are encouraging residents to be safe over the holiday weekend, particularly if planning water recreation activities.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).


Federal Audits Identify Shortcomings in Iowa Flood Relief Management

2008 Flooding in Downtown Waterloo, Iowa
Photo by Don Becker, USGS; Flickr

Three recent audits opened by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General cited errors in Iowa’s management of federal funds provided for 2008 flood relief. Most significantly, the state failed to verify that disaster assistance funds for businesses were not being duplicated by other federal grants. Continue reading

“Living With Floods” Upcoming Events

Photo by Marion Patterson; Flickr

The Living With Floods project is a statewide organization that commemorates, celebrates, and raises awareness about the flooding in Iowa and the recovery progress that has been made.

With the fifth-year anniversary of the 2008 floods coming up, these events will be taking place:

Thursday, May 30, 7pm: “Five Years Out: ‘Trouble the Water’” Curator Talk and Reception
Legion Arts at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third Street SE, Cedar Rapids
For more information, visit:
Friday, May 31, 8:30am: “Five Years Out: Ongoing Impacts and Challenges of the 2008 Floods” Symposium
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids
For more information and to register, visit:

FEMA awards $6.7 million to University of Iowa

The Hancher Voxman Clapp Building during the 2008 flood. Photo courtesy UI News Service.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded  more than $6.7 million to the University of Iowa to demolish buildings that were heavily damaged during the 2008 floods.

The award will assist in the demolition of the Hancher Voxman Clapp complex and Art Building East, a project that is estimated to cost about $7.5 million and is scheduled to begin this fall.

For more information, read the full article at the Press-Citizen.

2008 flood damage may cost UI music and art students

2008 floods in Iowa City. Photo by joewhitsitt, Flickr

Damage from the 2008 floods could be costing the University of Iowa prospective students.

The 2008 floods destroyed the Voxom School of Music, Hancher Auditorium, Clapp Recital Hall and the Art Building. The music and art students that normally would occupy these buildings are now occupying temporary locations around Iowa City.

Many of the temporary locations are not as attractive as the destroyed buildings, and do not help the university recruit aspiring music and art students.

The School of Music has seen a significant decline in undergraduates over the past four years.

Read more about this issue in the Press-Citizen’s article here.

UI tries to get FEMA funding for Museum of Art

Photo by kierkier, Flickr

The University of Iowa is trying again to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the damage done to the Museum of Art during the 2008 floods. Originally, FEMA did not provide the university funding because they felt there was not enough damage.

Now, the University of Iowa is hoping that FEMA will repeal their decision on the grounds that the museum is unable to insure the art in the former building because of its location on the Iowa River.

The funding would go towards a replacement building.

For more information, read The Gazette’s article here.

Cedar Rapids begins construction on new public library

Flooded Cedar Rapids street from 2008. Photo by mathman72

Three years after the old Cedar Rapids Public Library was devastated by flooding, construction has begun on a new library.

Since the flood, the Cedar Rapids’ library has made a temporary home in the Westdale Mall.

The new building will be located at 4th Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, and is expected to cost around $50 million.

Currently, the city hopes the new library will open in the summer of 2013.

For more information see The Gazette’s article on the building’s construction.

On the Radio: Iowa could lose crucial flood aid tools


2008 Iowa City flooding. Photo by Bethany Byers.


Listen to this week’s radio piece here.  It discusses the potential loss of some of Iowa’s crucial flood prevention tools.  Read the transcript below:

Towns consumed by water and left in ruins – we’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again. Despite the threat of devastation that floods pose for Iowans, surveillance of these natural disasters could soon be jeopardized.   Continue reading

Post-flood redevelopment in Iowa City

Photo by bettysalive, Flickr

The City of Iowa City and the EPA are working together to redevelop an area damaged by the 2008 floods. This area, known as Riverfront Crossings, is bordered by Riverside Drive to the west, Gilbert Street to the east, Highway 6 to the south and Burlington Street to the north. A press release by the City of Iowa City reports that this redevelopment will include a new park, flood mitigating developments and possibly the new University of Iowa School of Music: Continue reading