High-water readiness: No urgency, but M.C. officials ready after ’08 ‘wake-up call’
By John Skipper
MASON CITY — Although a flood warning is in effect for parts of North Iowa until Thursday, there is no need for alarm, according to Steve O’Neil, emergency services coordinator for Cerro Gordo and Franklin counties.
But there is a need for awareness, he said, which is a lesson learned from the flood of June 8, 2008.
“The flood back then was a wake-up call for all of us,” O’Neil said Monday. “We need to stay alert. When we have something intense happening, we pay attention. Sometimes, as a little time passes, we can get a little lax.”
The Winnebago River was at 6.6 feet Monday morning. It is expected to reach 7.2 feet tonight and then begin receding. Flood stage is at 7 feet.
“The river will probably go over its banks and on to the road in East Park. We don’t anticipate any property damage,” said O’Neil.
He said the area has experienced what he called “almost a perfect spring” so far, with no rapid melting of snow and much of the snow gone before the rains have come.
City Administrator Brent Trout said the city has taken many steps in the past three years to be prepared for whatever might happen.
A flood wall has been put up around the water treatment plant to prevent flooding inside the plant, which caused a water shutdown in the city for five days in 2008.
The city has also instituted a Code Red telephone alert system in which residents will be notified of potential flooding in time to take precautionary measures.
“We have installed pumps at the water reclamation plant that will pump the water with enough force to push it in to the river,” said Trout.
“When the water was high (inside the plant) we could not pump it out because the river water pressure was stronger than our pumps,” he said.
The danger in not getting the water out is that the plant will flood from the inside out, he said.
Also, said Trout, the city has had the Iowa Flood Center and Department of Natural Resources install river gauges upstream from Mason City at Leland, Forest City, Fertile and Kildeer Avenue plus one in the city.
“The gauges measure the river level and send real-time data to a computer that puts it on a website for us to monitor,” said Trout. “This way we can tell what the water level is upstream from us.”
The city has also asked the Iowa Flood Center to create flood inundation computer model maps.
“These will show us where flooding will occur first as the water levels rise so that we can deploy assets where they will be needed first,” he said.
O’Neil said emergency personnel have undergone extensive training since 2008 — “everything from sandbagging to traffic control.”
He said it is important for people like him to remain alert, just as he asks the public to do.
“That’s why it’s good for the media to call from time to time and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ I always need to be able to answer that,” he said.