House in Oakville, Iowa, surrounded by water two weeks after the Iowa River breached its levee in 2008 with ten feet of water. Credit: FEMA/Susie Shapira.

In 2008, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was devastated by its worst flood ever. The Cedar River rose eleven feet higher than it ever had before.

Davis: “We had eleven crossings of the Cedar River in our metro area, and ten of those were closed from being inundated.”

Robert Davis is the city’s flood control program manager. He says people were cut off from services, and emergency vehicles struggled to get where they needed to go.

Davis says this flood was an extreme case. But as the climate changes, big floods on the river are growing more common.

Davis: “The norm is now unpredictable. Now we’re seeing wild variations in the river level which was not the case going back a few decades ago.”

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Last year, the river overflowed again, topping the pre-2008 record by two feet.

So the city’s making changes. It’s building a levee and flood wall system around the sewage treatment plant. It also plans to elevate bridges using the 2008 river levels as a guide. The hope is that it will keep the bridges well above whatever flooding the next century brings.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...