Des Moines, Iowa Flooding – Updated Saturday @ 8:30 PM

*** This post will be updated and will be kept as a sticky at the top as major flooding events in Des Moines occur. ***

Downtown Des Moines is still contained, although other parts of the city have begun flooding more extensively as water from Saylorville Lake Reservoir has been filling the Des Moines River after the Emergency Spillway Dam was lowered last night.

Below is a live webcam of the river through downtown Des Moines (Sunday 6/15/2008: This image may now be pointing elsewhere in downtown Des Moines).



(1:00 PM) We’ve got about a foot of water on Court Avenue as water pressure on the storm sewer system has forced its way to the street. Manhole covers have popped off, but as far as I can tell, the levees themselves are still holding.

Downtown Des Moines Busnesses continue to operate. I’m working downtown today and will likely stay downtown the rest of the day unless something bad happens.

(7:00 PM) The water on Court Avenue was pumped into the river, so it’s pretty clear now. The water level at Saylorville Lake is rising slowly, and it’s likely there will be a crest this weekend close to the 1993 level.

Storms are running across the state and 2-3 more inches of rain will be falling into the river basins. The National Guard is mobilized (about 2,000 strong throughout the state).

I’ll have some photos posted later this evening. Right now, I need to take care of a few things outside.

(9:00 PM) Worse news now… 4 people killed and many more injured at a Scout Camp in Western Iowa.

River levels are up now.

One of my co-workers, Deanna Sellner, took the following pictures today down by the river.

Upper Left: Local TV Cameaman at the Court Avenue Bridge.

Upper Right: The Walnut Street Bridge.

Lower Left: The new Pedestrian Bridge.

Lower Right: The hoses that were used to pump the water out of the Court Avenue District and into the Des Moines river this afternoon after the rains.

TV Camera Man Walnut Street Bridge
Pedestrian Bridge Water Removal

(Thursday 10:00 AM)

3 to 4 inches of rain last night throughout the river basins that feed the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. Officials are now saying that the river levels will reach levels in excess of the levels in 1993 in Des Moines. Des Moines City Officials (particularly Bill Stowe, the publics works director) are saying the levees in downtown Des Moines should continue to hold. At this point, the biggest concerns center around flooding associated with the fact the storm sewer system is full and any rain in Des Moines will almost certainly cause localized flooding, including the lower lying parts of downtown. Power in downtown Des Moines may be impacted if underground power facilities are flooded.

Other parts of Des Moines are flooding, particularly the Birdland Park (currently being evacuated) area upriver (on the Des Moines). The Department of Transportation plans to close part of Interstate 80 in Eastern Iowa on Friday as flooding will make the road impassible.

Cresting of the rivers in Central Iowa is expected to occur over the weekend (assuming we don’t get more rain over the weekend). Saylorville Lake will crest about a foot above it’s current level. Down-river impacts have not been discussed a lot yet, but the Mississippi is likely to flood badly into the farm lands and cities along it and river traffic will almost certainly be halted.

I’m working from home today as I would prefer not to get stuck downtown or be part of impacting other people’s ability to evacuate if necessary. My neighborhood in West Des Moines is not currently at risk, and was never flooded in 1993, so I’m feeling pretty safe here.

(Thursday 12:00 PM)

So, overnight the Court Avenue area went through the same problem with the rains overnight… and Buzzard Billy’s Basement is apparently flooded up to street level. Crews cleaned up the water again, but if we keep getting rain, we’ll keep having this problem.

The four deaths at the Boy Scout camp in western Iowa were all 13 and 14 years old. More than 40 others were hospitalized. Governor Culver proclaimed today that there were a number of real heroes at the camp, and a number of lives were saved due to fast thinking, training and preparedness of the scouts. One of the teenagers that died was from Eagle Grove, Iowa, the other three were from the Omaha, Nebraska area. All of us grieve with these families.

More pictures from Deanna.

Upper left: Court Avenue Bridge from the north, showing all three arches almost covered.

Upper right: Court Avenue Bridge with Pedestrian Bridge in background, closer view with focus on the western arch.

Lower Left: Pedestrian Bridge over the Des Moines River.

Lower Right: Waterstreet Brownstones along Des Moines River.

Court Avenue Bridge Court Avenue Bridge
Pedestrian Bridge Brown-Camp Lofts Along Des Moines River

(Thursday 1:30 PM)

River Forecast Update:

DES MOINES, Iowa — The newest forecast for rivers in the Des Moines area are generally lower than they were first predicted to reach.

The experts predict the Des Moines River will crest Friday night at 30.2 feet, more than a foot short of the record 1993 crest of 31.7 feet.

But farther downstream, the Des Moines River is expected to crest at Southeast 6th Street at 34.5 feet, which is just above the record crest.

The Raccoon River is expected to crest at 34.5 feet at Fleur Drive, which is about three feet short of the record flood of 1993.

These new forecasts take into account the rain that fell overnight and should come as welcome news to a nervous city watching rising rivers.

Indeed, this is good news.

(Thursday 6:00 PM)

The Interstate 80 Road Closure has been updated. Click here for the info.

Part of Pleasant Hill (east of Des Moines) is being evacuated now. More roads around the city and the state are closing.

And, new photos from another co-worker, Chris Miller. On all of the photos here , if you right-mouse and select “View Image”, it will open a new page. If you then click the image, you’ll get the full size photo. Chris made a great observation, that if the levees had not been improved by the city as they were after 1993, downtown would be under water now.

061208_12211.jpg 061208_12221.jpg
061208_12222.jpg 061208_12272.jpg

(Thursday 10:00 PM)

Saturday morning’s Des Moines Farmers Market has been canceled. That was necessary because it’s held in the Court Avenue district and would likely be flooded out one way or another.

Organizers said that because of “the current stresses on City support services and the potential for activity in the Court Avenue District, it was prudent to cancel this Saturday’s Downtown Farmers’ Market.”

Organizers said the Farmers’ Market will return to the Court Avenue District on Saturday, June 21.

Visit or for more information.

Additional attention is moving to the cities and dams down-river from Des Moines, who are starting to see higher water levels as the water running through Des Moines heads south. Red Rock, Ottumwa, and other areas will be affected, and of course, the Mississippi before long.

As mentioned elsewhere, the State political conventions for both parties, which were scheduled for this weekend, have been postponed.

I never really thought The Conservative Reader would become a public service, but numerous hits have been coming in this evening regarding the rerouting of traffic along Interstate 80 in easter n Iowa. I sincerely hope it’s helping.

We do continue to hold those who are being severely impacted by the floods in our prayers tonight. If you don’t mind, please do the same. My family is fortunate to be in a safer area, but many others are not and are in need.

(Friday 12:00 PM)

Among other things, flood plain areas along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers are being evacuated this afternoon. I decided to work downtown today, so it will be interesting to see whether we get sent home early or not.

Driving in, the water on the Raccoon downtown looked like it had at least 6 or more feet before it would be at the top of those levees… I’m guessing it’s more than that, just my quick assessment as I drove over the river.

Some sections of downtown were having issues with the storm sewers backing up. That’s probably going to be a problem for a few days now. I almost ran over a bubbling manhole cover myself!

It is absolutely amazing to me how many rumors end up flying around. Every day, I’ve heard multiple times that the Des Moines Water Works is already flooded. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! The last official report, just moments ago, is that the Water Works is “high and dry”. The worst part is the rumors that go like this “I just heard on the TV…” and it turns out it never happens. People!

I did get a few pictures this morning… I’ll get them posted later today.

It’s really weird to look out at bright, sunny, cloudless skies today. It all looks so nice, and yet there are people losing their homes, their memories, their livelihood. Please don’t forget them today.

There are now 83 counties that have been declared disaster areas by Governor Culver… only 16 remain unaffected. That may not last long.

(Friday 8:00 PM)

What a day! First of all, we missed some Cedar Rapids events. Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids was evacuated (a little less than 150 patients). Everyone was moved safely. Also, over 100 blocks of the city of Cedar Rapids has been under water all day. And finally, over 10,000 people are now displaced.

Here in Des Moines, the evacuation of the flood plain and downtown are finishing up. Evidently, a piece of debris got stuck in an upriver measuring device that convinced officials that a foot more of water was coming… after the debris was removed, and the day proceeded, it became apparent that only an inch more was coming. The river in the downtown area should be cresting right now.

Various parts of the metro area are under water. The scene looks a lot like 1993, although downtown is not as affected thanks to the improved levee system. West Des Moines has limited impact on some roads and fields.

We should know more about the actual impact on homes. A lot of people are being evacuated, but it’s looking like much of those that are evacuating may return to intact homes. Some areas, like those in the northern part of the city around the Birdland area, may not be as fortunate.

Interstate 80/35 on the north side of town looks like a bridge across a bay, kind of like Chesapeake. The baseball stadium is surrounded again, but not as water logged as last time (yet). Most events planned for the downtown and other affected areas are being canceled.

Corn prices are rising as the crop is becoming less and less viable. Switching to beans might be an option for some farmers, but even that may be a huge challenge.

The water level at Saylorville Lake is steady and perhaps starting to recede. More on that later.

More pictures from our photo journalist, Deanna, at noon today:

First row are south and north face views of the Court Avenue Bridge from the West side of the Des Moines River (all photos from the West bank of the river).

Second row, Court Avenue Bridge (with the Pedestrian Bridge in the background) North Face.

Third row, Pedestrian Bridge (north and south face).

Forth row, Railroad Bridge south of the Pedestrian Bridge. Looks like earth (probably hauled in to close the gap the bridge creates in the levee).

Firth row, Observation Platform and Ballpark. It appears the photographer (Deanna) was standing on the peak of the levee and that the 1st Street roadbed (between the observation platform and the wall on the right) is mostly under water.

Walnut Street Bridge Walnut Street Bridge
Court Avenue Bridge Court Avenue Bridge
Pedestrian Bridge Pedestrian Bridge
Railroad Bridge Railroad Bridge
Observation Platform and Ballpark  

(Friday 9:00 PM)

Been watching a press conference where Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Johnston officials, plus Governor Culver, the National Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers all presented current status and answered questions from the press. I’m very impressed with the way the officials are handling the questions… some very pointed ones, but well answered. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie particularly handled “Are you having second thoughts about evacuating?”, and “What are you going to do differently to improve the confidence of downtown businesses and residents for the future?” quite well (answers were “No”, and “We will examine ideas and options down the road”).

The representative from the Army Corps of Engineers was peppered with questions about the various decisions that were made regarding water levels in Saylorville and the release of water into the river. The release rate has been reduced since the lake has apparently crested, which should relieve the river through Des Moines if it can be maintained.

Governor Culver mentioned the possibility of a special session of the General Assembly.

Water is flowing across interstate 80 in Cedar country. Below is a photo from the Iowa DOT.

Interstate 80 Flooding

(Saturday 12:00 AM)

Well, it looks like the Des Moines Metro area may have dodged a bullet. Water levels on all the river measuring points around town are showing that the water is receding. Officials remain on alert and are monitoring the levees for breaks or other problems, and we certainly aren’t out of danger yet, but it’s looking good.

Meanwhile, cities downriver are still facing their own problems. Tracy and Ottumwa are seeing water levels climbing and are are at “major” stage flooding levels. Hannibal Missouri is already heading for record highs, and I suspect we’re just beginning to hear about bad news on the Mississippi. Eastern Iowa already appears to be a substantial mess.

More to come in the morning.

(Saturday 10:00 AM)

Flood waters in Des Moines continue to recede. However, a levee on the north side of town at Birdland broke over night and water is now inundating that area. Homeowners are now under a mandatory evacuation in the Birdland neighborhood, and North High School is completely surrounded by water. City crews are works to build a temporary berm to hold back the water.

(Saturday 3:00 PM)

In Des Moines, the Birdland area continues to flood. Attempts to build a secondary berm to hold back the waters has not been successful… it can be difficult with water pouring heavily through an area. It appears as if we can only wait for the water to stop and recede.

In West Des Moines, there have been areas of minor localized flooding, in areas to the west of Valley Junction that are not protected by the levee system.

The river levels continue to go down in the Des Moines Metro area. Around the downtown area, they are still in the “major” stage flooding level, but definitely improving.

John McCain issued a statement today:

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by the flooding throughout the Midwest,” he said in a statement Saturday. “Cindy and I would like to extend our sympathies to all those who have lost loved ones, and stand ready to help those in the Midwest to recover and rebuild.”

The Iowa Cubs canceled last night’s and today’s games.

The Army Core of Engineers spokesman indicated that he will be deployed into eastern Iowa to help with management of the activities in those areas… his work here is about done for now.

During Governor Culver’s press conference, the Governor responded “yes” to the question “Do you think this is one of the worst, or the worst disaster in Iowa?”. He indicated that we should expect billions of dollars in crop, business and property loss. He also stated that “we will rebuild Iowa”.

Without a doubt, Cedar Rapids has so far experienced the worst damage so far. Almost 500 city blocks are flooded, and thousands of people have lost everything… more than 20,000 homeless. The water in Cedar Rapids is receding now, thankfully.

The Red Cross and other United Way services are mobilized. If you want to donate to the Red Cross, I’d suggest going here.

Ottumwa, Burlington, Iowa City, Keokuk and other cities to the east and south-east of Des Moines are next. Lt. Governor Patty Judge was emphatic today that this effort to protect lives, stem the flood, etc, will not abate. The Iowa National Guard has deployed 2,500 Reserves to assist in the effort… they plan to mobilize another 1,000 in the next few days.

Mayor Cownie of Des Moines has just announced that based on assessments just completed a short while ago, at 6:00 PM today, they plan to discontinue the curfew and general evacuations in the flood plain, with the exception of the Birdland area. They will also at the same time re-open the downtown bridges that have been closed most of the week. He emphasized the importance of being careful, staying away from the levees, and just watching from home.

(Saturday 8:30 PM)

Just a couple of items.

Iowa city is evidently experiencing heavy flood damage. From KCCI-TV:

The Iowa River runs right through the University of Iowa. Students and faculty joined with residents and the National Guard to fill thousands of sandbags, but it wasn’t enough. They have given up on protecting an area of the campus known as the Arts Campus. University spokesman Steve Parrott said it was just too unsafe for the crews.

Also today, the Iowa Cubs ended up playing their game today, to what was probably a record crowd… Zero. No fans were allowed to come the game since the park is mostly surrounded by water still and the evacuation order was still in effect at that time. The Cubs beat Nashville 5-4.

About the Author

Mr. Smith is the Publisher of The Conservative Reader. He is Partner/Owner of Ambrosia Web Technology as well as a Systems Architect for Wells Fargo. Art hold a degree in Computer Science from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a political blogger at the Des Moines Register. Art's views are purely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo.


Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

    Log in