“Higher and longer floods”: Davenport’s Flood Task Force hears future flood probability

Flooding efforts are ongoing due to the Mississippi River rising. (KWQC)
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Members of Davenport’s Flood Task Force heard from the National Weather Service and Army Corps of Engineers at its second meeting Tuesday afternoon. The meeting focused on future flood risks and changing climate.

During the meeting, two representatives from the National Weather Service shared the “perfect storm” of circumstances that led up to the flood of ’19 and ultimately the breach of a temporary flood barrier in downtown Davenport. Committee members also heard about the future of flooding in Davenport.

Jessica Brooks, a Service Hydrologist with NOAA / National Weather Service, said heavy rains in the fall and spring, along with heavy snowpack and a frozen ground preventing the rain and snowmelt from absorbing into the ground allowed the river to rise higher than seen in the past.

“We will see higher and longer floods more often” Ray Wolf, Science and Operations Officer, NOAA / National Weather Service, said. “A 100-year flood does not mean it will happen every 100 years. It could be every year”.

“This is our new normal,” Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said.
Before the presentation by the National Weather Service, the committee recapped its last meeting, discussing what it felt were top priorities to protect in the community.

The committee broke up flood protection into three priorities with priority ones being the most critical to protect and priority threes being less important, but not as critical to the city. Priority one protection was designated to be things like the water treatment facility and entrances to bridges. Priority two was downtown city streets and priority three focused on parks and recreational areas.

But, not everyone believes flood protection should take a priority. One subgroup of the committee believes all nine miles of Davenport’s river front should be protected.

“[It’s] not what we want to protect, but when do we want to protect it.” Paul Rumler, President and CEO of the QC Chamber said in the meeting.

The 22-member Flood Task Force was established by Mayor Frank Klipsch following the temporary levee breach in downtown Davenport on April 30. Rumler expressed concerns during Tuesday’s meeting about what will happen with the ideas that come of the Flood Task Force.

“We are just meeting to meet,” Rumler said to the group after questioning whether the city council had a budget or plans to take the committees ideas and move them forward.

Rumler was not alone with his concerns. Dan Bush, a downtown business owner, who formed the Downtown Davenport Business Coalition also expressed concerns. The coalition is a group of business owners who got together to discuss ways for the city to better communicate and protect downtown assets. In the past several years, the downtown area has seen a $500 million investment. Bush and Rumler want to make sure that is protected.

“This is not going to get better. We need to act now and protect ourselves. We can’t be the good neighbor that is a martyr who is taking on all the water,” Bush said. “We have to act and we have to act quickly.”

When the task force was formed, Klipsch said the group would come up with ideas to protect the city from flooding. Part of the conversation, Klipsch said, would include what the protection would look like and how to pay for it. After hearing the concerns from Rumler and Bush, Klipsch addressed the group.

“This [project] has a lot of zeroes to it and that doesn’t mean we don’t do it,” the mayor said. “It means we need to be strategic in how we do it.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the task force heard from the Army Corps of Engineers about what caused the Hesco Barrier to give way and Davenport’s Public Works Director Nicole Gleason who laid out changes to how the city will respond to future floods.

The Flood Task Force is meeting every two weeks and the mayor said they will meet until the work is finished. Its next meeting is August 6 at 5:00. It will take place in the large meeting room of the downtown Davenport library.