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Corps: Crisis Averted During Weekend Rains

JOHNSON COUNTY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said crisis was averted this weekend after the Iowa River Basin received nearly five inches of rain, but areas downstream of the Coralville Dam were kept from flooding further.

That's because this year's flood event wasn't nearly as bad at initial projections, and there was extra room in the reservoir for the sudden downpour, said natural resource specialist Jeffrey Peck.

The corps was able to close the dam up a bit because of that extra room, cutting outflows dramatically to prevent downstream creeks from dumping more water into the Iowa River.

On Saturday morning, the corps closed the dam from 18,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 15,000 CFS. After even more rain hit during the day, the corps closed to dam to just 10,000 CFS.

"With Mother Nature, you just never know what to expect. But the biggest thing is just, when we get a call and when we monitor all of our river gages downstream, we really try to monitor and do the best job we possibly can to help and prevent flooding from impacting businesses and individuals downstream," Peck said.

If there hadn't been that extra room in the reservoir to cut back on outflows, the flooded areas in Iowa City, such as Normandy Drive and Taft Speedway, would have gotten even worse.

"They would have been inundated and we would have had some major flooding in those areas and we would have impacted some of those individuals that we normally wouldn't impact," Peck said.

One unintended consequence of flood mitigation, however, was flooding in the Monica's restaurant parking lot in Coralville. Hesco barriers meant to keep out flooding caused rain water to pool on the concrete Saturday.

"It got pretty full, I mean, you couldn't get in the parking lot very far, but the city was great, they had one pump working, then three, then five," said owner Randy Larson. "When we moved in here, the city of Coralville said, 'We will make sure you don't get flooded' and they've lived up to that."

But Larson said the corps could do more. Making the reservoir a recreation area forces the corps to hold on to water, instead of just focusing on flood mitigation, Larson said.

"Well, they're serving two masters, and what they're saying all spring is, 'We're going to let this be a lake for recreation,' if they'd let that go way down, they'd have more capacity and then they wouldn't have these floods," Larson said.

But Peck said this isn't just about recreation. The corps holds lake levels to counterbalance all the other rivers and creeks that enter the basin downstream of the dam.

"We have to kind of balance what we're doing with our discharges in order to accommodate all those other individuals," Peck said.

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