COUNCIL BLUFFS — While no evacuation orders have been issued, the City of Council Bluffs on Wednesday raised its flood alert status to Level 1.
Fire Chief Alan Byers described Level 1 as a slowly developing flood event. The city recommends that residents make preparations to leave the area should the situation escalate.
Byers said several factors led the city to raise the alert level, including:
» The river rising above the 34-foot threshold.
» More water being released from Gavins Point Dam. Levels will increase from 150,000 cubic feet per second to 160,000 cfs. The releases are expected to remain at that level through August.
» An above-normal precipitation forecast for the watershed above Council Bluffs.
» Seepage and high groundwater levels inside the levee, which can cause additional risk.
Additionally, Byers said, a “significant number” of residents surveyed last weekend weren't aware of the risks or the flooding.
“We were amazed, but over 50 percent of people who were interviewed did not recognize the risk the city is under from a flood event or didn't know that there was a flood event,” he said.
“We are at risk,” Byers said. “This is a sustained event that historically has never been done on levees of this type… We're just trying to wake people up to a level of preparedness they should be at.”
He noted that there have been no high-risk issues with the levees so far. If there were to be a threat to levees, Byers said, the alert level would be raised higher.
Level 3, the highest flood alert, would mean major flooding is imminent or under way.
Mayor Tom Hanafan said getting the message out about the risk associated with the sustained river level is paramount.
“Everybody needs to be really alert,” Hanafan said. “Our No. 1 goal is to protect the people of Council Bluffs.”
Hanafan said city staff debated whether to raise the alert level, because they knew that more questions would be coming from residents about voluntary evacuations.
“But we're getting those questions now, anyway,” he said. “I am trying to explain things to people that I never thought I'd have to — ‘What should I do?' And I can't tell them.”
Byers said it is important that the whole community realizes the risks associated with the Missouri River's extraordinary height.
“If we were to have a catastrophic flood event that impacted the west and south parts of Council Bluffs, services such as water, storm water, sewage and sewer drainage could be huge issues for the rest of the community,” he said. “So they need to know just as much as anybody else.”
Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said nothing has changed in the county; floodwaters some time ago reached approximately 100 homes.
Wilber did say that while Council Bluffs has raised its alert status to Level 1, Carter Lake has not.
“They (Carter Lake city officials) talked it over and decided against it,” Wilber said. “They are in a little different situation — the Omaha levee system provides their protection.”
Byers said the duration of the high water levels is what makes this a unique situation.
“This situation will last for weeks, not hours,” he said.
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Video: Flood chute built near the Qwest Center.