Levee upgrade comes with $2M price tag

Spring is the time of year when Iowans prepare for severe weather. Gutters are cleaned, sump pumps checked and weather radios programmed. For residents and business owners in Marshalltown another important element of their safety net is the city’s levee system.

According to Rodney Delp, Chief of Emergency Management at the Rock Island Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Iowa River levee was built in the 1970s to a height that was 3 feet in excess of what a one hundred year flood would require.

After construction, the Corps has maintained inspections, but maintenance and repair is the responsibility of the city of Marshalltown.

“Marshalltown is required to maintain the levee in original condition,” Delp said.

Through the years the levee has protected the city and withstood the ravages of severe floods in 1993, and the high water records set in 2008. According to information obtained from Marshalltown’s Flood Plan, the high water events of those floods remained slightly below the level the structures were designed for, and several feet below the top of the levee.

Lynn Couch, Marshalltown’s Director of Public Works, said the levees have passed every inspection conducted by the Corps of Engineers.

That does not mean, however, that the levees do not need to be updated and improved. In response to recent events, improved digital mapping, and new analysis, FEMA has issued new specifications that require marginally raising several areas of the river levee and the areas around bridges on the Linn Creek levee. New flood gates on Linn Creek are also required.

According to Couch, proposed changes are currently in the design phase and have an estimated cost of approximately $2 million which will be paid by the sale of bonds in 2014 and 2015. Expected completion of the project is the summer of 2015. Failure to comply with the FEMA requirements would result in the levees decertification, flood maps would be redrawn,and insurance rates could sky rocket.

“The levees are and will remain well maintained protecting the residents of Marshalltown,” Couch said.