MUSCATINE, Iowa — National, state and local officials gathered Wednesday evening to talk about Living with Floods — and about the fond desire of people living in a river community to minimize their flood risk.

“The enjoyment of the river is there — its beauty and its power,” said Muscatine Public Works Director Randy Hill to open the “Living with Floods” event, held at the Joint Armed Forces Center. “But when it rages uncontrolled, it can be fearsome and very threatening.”

With the help of technical expertise provided by the Army Corps of Engineers, city and county officials, together with business leaders and agricultural producers, are preparing for the unthinkable — a breach in the levee that protects the Muscatine Island.

Shirley Johnson and Greg Karlovits, hydrologists with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island district, delivered some of the data that their computer modeling shows will occur following a hypothetical levee breach in one of three spots: near Musser Park, near Monsanto and in Louisa County, near the pumping station there.

“The levee is inspected regularly, so there’s no imminent threat,” Karlovits said. “Our hydraulic modeling shows how quickly (water) will spread and how deep it will get” if a breach occurs in any of the three spots.

“They are all devastating scenarios. There’s a lot at stake, so planning ahead is really the best antidote,” he said. “This study helps for the planning that will save lives and save money.”

The Muscatine Area Geographic Information Consortium (MAGIC) has developed a program to place some of the data from the study on the city’s website. It’s at www.muscatineiowa.gov/index.aspx?nid=745.

According to Hill, officials are still determining how much information from the study will be made available to the public, and how much will be reserved for stakeholders and government officials.

“I think anybody in this area is at risk, and so everybody ought to be entitled to the information,” Hill said.

Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center, said his organization, housed at the University of Iowa, is in the middle of a five-year project to develop flood inundation maps for the entire state. The Iowa Flood Center also maintains stream monitoring sensors called bridge sensors.

"Our system (described at www.iowafloodcenter.org) is designed for non-experts,” Krajewski said. “We’re trying to shorten the path between doing research and providing things that are immediately helpful. We want to make it one-stop shopping for the public.”

Randy Howell, Muscatine’s roadway maintenance supervisor, explained the steps that road crews take depending on river levels. By 24 feet — eight feet above flood stage — water is lapping at the steps of the Muscatine Hotel, he said.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen that,” Howell said, “and I’m glad.”

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