Floods can cause physical and psychological damage. They can tear communities asunder and cripple economies.
As with any natural disaster, preparedness is key. In an attempt to protect against floods' often devastating effects, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establishes levee guidelines.
These guidelines require each community to have its levees certified by a licensed engineer to ensure they meet FEMA requirements.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
The levee on Linn Creek near East Marion St. is shown here Thursday afternoon. In addition to raising levee heights nearby bridges, many flap gates (front) along the creek need to be upgraded to sluce gates (back) as per FEMA requirements. The improvements will cost the city nearly $1 million and take roughly two years to complete.
Since 2007, FEMA has been making its way around Iowa recertifiying counties and has finally made its way to Marshalltown.
With FEMA's levee height requirements in hand, the engineering firm hired by the city, H.R. Green Inc. out of Cedar Rapids, made its way around Marshalltown, inspecting the levees.
Mike Ryan, an engineer with the company, presented the findings to the Marshalltown City Council Monday, saying that some levees are not up to standards, and some drains need to be converted to other, more effective, drainage systems.
"Much like maintenance issues, you have to make sure they are in tact and are up to the height they are supposed to be up to," he said of the levees. "That structural measure needs to be something you can depend on."
Particularly, Ryan said, the flap gates - a drainage system similar to a water doggie door - in Linn Creek need to be updated to sluce gates. Ryan said sluce gates are less likely to get clogged with debris.
The Iowa Corp of Engineers (ICE) built the levees back in the 1970s, Lynn Couch, public works director, said.
Back then, both Couch and Ryan said, flood plain mapping was not digital like it is now. When setting flood insurance rates, companies use that map to establish which homes are at risk for which types of floods.
However, not everyone is on board with these improvements, which will wind up costing the city nearly $1 million.
Bob Wenner, at-large council member, said these specifications fail to take into account historical context.
He said the data is a swath from across the county and fails to put into perspective the actuality of what happens during a flood in Marshalltown.
"Ever since that levee was built, they haven't looked at high water flooding," he said.
He said the city is caught between two agencies - FEMA and ICE.
Couch said although FEMA guidelines differ from the specifications ICE set out when it built the levees, the disparities are a matter of the gap in time, not a matter of different standards.
"If the levee were built today, the corp would be running the same models," Couch said. "There is not a difference in the agencies. There is a difference in the time when it was done."
He said ICE does yearly inspections on the levees, but it is no longer in charge of certifying them.
Couch said during a 1993 flood-water levels reached within a foot of levee tops.
"That's not really sufficient," he said.
If levees are not brought up to FEMA specifications, the government begins the decertification process and reconfigures the map, which would likely send flood insurance rates near the creek soaring.
Properties that, because of remapping, go from not being in a flood plain to being inside the flood plain, could see their insurance rate jump ten fold, Couch said.
"It's not a good idea for us not to comply with what FEMA is requiring," he said.
FEMA fines the city if the levee certification paperwork is even a day past the July 22 deadline, Wenner said.
The decertification process takes about two years, Couch said. Coincidentally, he also said the improvements to the levee would take about the same amount of time.
The city is able to fund the levee improvements in a variety of ways, including local option sales tax and storm sewer funds.
Contact David Alexander at 641-753 6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org