BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With river levels expected to crest at just over 21 feet on Wednesday, city and county officials are preparing for flooding along the Mississippi River that could compare to 2008 levels.
Fort Madison Public Works Director Larry Driscoll wrote in an email to Pen City Current on Friday that he is preparing for a 21′ river level. However, he indicated the city isn’t at high risk looking at current flooding projections.
The National Weather Service flood monitoring out of the Quad Cities has the Burlington river flood crest at 20’1″ on Tuesday, March 19 through March 20, before it starts to recede. That mark puts flooding in the “major flooding” category on the site. River levels are projected through Thursday and remain in the ‘major’ flooding category with forecasts at over 19 feet on Thursday.
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Burlington has a flood stage of 15′ and is currently 16.9 as of Saturday morning. The NWS also tracks flooding in Keokuk, but doesn’t show a snapshot for Fort Madison.
Keokuk has a flood stage of 16′ and is forecast to crest at 19’7″ on Tuesday, which is also considered “major” flooding by the NWS. As of 9 a.m. Saturday, the Mississippi was at 15’2″ in Keokuk.
Driscoll wrote the city is currently sealing off property along the riverfront.
“We have sealed off the city owned building at Riverview and Monday we will be dropping off sand bags for the Old Museum location along Avenue H and 10th street. We will also be setting up material at the Waste Water Treatment Plant,” he said.
“At this time and projected level we are not at much risk. The ground is wet and spring is just getting here and I think the river will be high much of the spring season. But we’ll be ready for flooding up to or around the 2008 level.
Steve Cirinna, the Lee County Emergency Management Service Coordinator, said the forecast flood crest for Burlington raised a foot from 19’4″ Thursday night to a 20’4″ forecast Friday morning, which was a surprise to him.
He said a Wednesday conference call with the NWS indicated that crests shouldn’t get over 20 feet with projected weather models, but things can change.
“As long as we don’t have any rain or heavy snow melt, which they weren’t seeing on Wednesday, it shouldn’t get above 20 feet,” Cirinna said Friday.
“I don’t think it’s a major issue right now. It will bring in some high water, but I think the problem is going to be fluctuating temps up north. If they remain colder that should ease the snow melt,” he said.
“But they must have seen something Friday morning that indicated possible more snow melt because we don’t see any rain.”
Cirinna said if the temperatures warm up quickly in the north, that’s when problems could start.
“If that pack melts all at once, obviously we’re going to have a lot of water that could match or exceed 2008 or even 1993 numbers. It will be dependent on what that snow pack does up north at end of March and the first part of April. With water as high as it is now, it wouldn’t have time to get back down.”
He said if there is anything good about this type of snow melt flooding, it’s that the officials can see it coming.
“Everybody is making preparations now, so we’re not going to get caught with our hands in our pockets,” Cirinna said. “If there’s anything good about this type of flooding, it’s that we can see it coming. In 1993 and to an extent 2008, we were surprised due to the rain.”
Sand resources are limited, however, Cirinna said. He said he’s let all the governmental agencies know that sand available through the Army Corp. of Engineers is limited due to other issues in the country.
“That’s the other issue for us right now. I’ve given sand bags to cities and the county to protect critical infrastructure,’ he said. “I get that from the Army Corp. We request it from the state and they go to the Corp. But it’s limited, so I’m letting people know they should start looking for it now.”