Ames City Council hears suggestions for flood mitigation

Sarah Haas

Both Ames officials and residents expressed concern about the future of flood mitigation and recovery during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Officials repeatedly assured residents that the city has not made any decisions on how to mitigate flooding in the future. In fact, the city council and officials agreed the city must act quickly to help residents affected by August flooding, but decisions for flood mitigating should wait. Instead they said the next step is to solicit a flood plain management study from an engineering firm.

“Before we have data there are no solutions on the table,” said Mayor Ann Campbell, in order to calm residents in the crowd.

The council made a similar decision following the flood of 1993. The study was commissioned by a partnership between the city, Iowa State, Story County and the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Bob Kindred, assistant city manager, outlined the city’s actions following the completion of the study in 1996. He said the study provided a benefit/cost analysis of a variety of flood mitigation processes including channel widening, channel clearing, construction of levees, flood proofing individual properties and increased regulation for building in flood plains.

In response to the study, the city enacted several changes including the implementation of a flood warning early alert system. The city also established new flood plain development standards. Iowa State installed some flood proofing structures on buildings while choosing to make minor improvements to others.

Several audience members expressed concern that the city would have to choose between protecting residents’ properties and buildings owned by Iowa State. City officials said the analysis of flood mitigating techniques would have to be a comprehensive analysis of the complex ways floodwaters affect the entire community of Ames.

“Every possible mitigation step, as good as it may be, has another side. If you build a levee here to protect this side, there will be impacts on this side,” Kindred said.

He said his experiences handling the 1993 flooding taught him that flood mitigation and recovery is a long process.

“We really as a community are at the beginning of that process,” he said.

Steve Schainker, city manager, also said the flood plain management study should be a joint effort between Iowa State and other local agencies in order to ensure that techniques used in one area do not exacerbate the problems prevalent in another.

But officials and residents agreed the flooding was not merely a result of the floodwaters traveling downstream from the watersheds in northern Iowa. Some Ames residents experienced flooding due to the failure of storm sewers and sanitary sewer pipes. This caused basements to flood in unprecedented numbers.

Schainker said the city has yet to obtain a comprehensive list of basement backups, which would help the city prioritize inquiries into both the sewer and sanitary systems. He said the city might need to take steps to repair problematic areas with public funds, particularly an increase in the storm water fee paid by Ames residents.

The new flood plain management study will hopefully shed light on changes several officials and audience members suggested were evident in the area’s rainfall patterns, which some attributed to climate change.

“We now have 17 years more experience than in 1993, as far as rain fall and flooding both, which might redefine flood plains,” Kindred said.

Several audience members encouraged the city to consider limiting building in the flood plain or restricting building to the 500-year-flood levels only.

Others spoke of their personal experiences with flooding and the resilience of Ames neighborhoods.

Council member Jeremy Davis interrupted a resident who suggested council members hadn’t experienced the trauma associated with flooded basements. He said he was busy taking buckets of water out of his basement in August. Like the rest of Ames, council members are also very interested in finding solutions to the problems, they explained.

“Right now the information we need is unavailable,” said Matthew Goodman, council member. “We believe that it’s very, very important to the city that the council have as much information as possible when we make important decisions like this.”