Small leak found at levee protecting Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhood; no evacuation planned

By Melanie S. Welte, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Leak found at levee guarding area of Des Moines

DES MOINES, Iowa — Authorities late Thursday found a small leak in a levee near downtown Des Moines, but officials said there was no imminent danger to a flood-prone neighborhood it protects and that residents had not been asked to leave.

The leak was discovered about 9 p.m. and Des Moines Public Works Director Bill Stowe characterized it as seepage.

“There is no hole in the levee,” Stowe said. “We will continue to monitor the situation but as of now there is no imminent risk to people or property.”

Even if the levee protecting the Birdland neighborhood should fail, Stowe was optimistic the working-class neighborhood will be protected by a secondary berm built behind the levee.

The neighborhood was inundated by floodwater when the levee broke in 2008.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from a reservoir into the river north of Des Moines faster than planned in an effort to empty as much from it as possible before more rain falls this weekend.

The release of water, while necessary to keep Saylorville Lake from overflowing, raised concerns about the levee, which failed in 1993 and 2008, flooding more than 100 homes and businesses.

The river was expected to crest Thursday night, but because it’s rising slower than anticipated, the Corps expects it to crest at 7 a.m. Friday.

Stowe had earlier said he would not be surprised if the levee failed because of its weakened state.

Jerry Skalak, the Corps project manager, said despite concerns, he believed the levee would hold.

“You’ll get some flooding of some park lands and other stuff that it will create,” he said, “but as far as commercial and residential flooding and stuff, unless there’s a major levee failure, there should be no harm.”

Sandbagging was under way at Glass Professionals Inc., a glass shop within a quarter-mile of the levee.

Employees Kevin Orr and Kevin Schrauth, both of Ankeny, had been building a wall of sandbags around the plant since Monday.

“It’s ridiculous. We’re pretty worked up about it, to be honest with you,” Schrauth said. “We might be shut down for two weeks. That puts us behind for the whole rest of the summer.”

The Corps began lowering panels from an inflatable dam in Saylorville Lake earlier in the day to avoid producing a roaring current as the water pours over the reservoir’s spillway, located 11 miles north of Des Moines.

Tom Heinold, an Army Corps flood-risk management coordinator, said the decision to release water faster was made once it became clear the city was prepared for higher water and because the forecast showed that up to 3 inches of rain could fall Sunday and Monday.

“We want to get as much water out of the lake without causing undue damage,” Heinold said. “We are going to lower them faster in an effort to release as much water as we can before it rains.”

Some residents in the Birdland neighborhood packed up their belongings and headed to higher ground earlier this week, fearing that the levee could fail again. In 2008, some 135 homes and businesses were engulfed by the flooded Des Moines River after the levee gave way.

The projected crest anticipated Friday has been lowered to 26.7 feet. That is less than 4 feet above flood stage and below the 2008 level of 31.6 feet.

Heinold said the lower level is because not as much water is flowing into the reservoir because of this week’s sunny weather.

Construction of a new levee was delayed by red tape and work that was set to begin this month has been postponed because of weeks of heavy rain.

Gloria Spivey, who was packing up her home Thursday, wasn’t optimistic a new levee would be built anytime soon.

“It took them 17 years to plan it out and it will take them 17 years to build it,” said Spivey, who moved across the street when her home was condemned after the 2008 flood.

Associated Press Writers Luke Meredith and Michael J. Crumb contributed to this report.

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