Miles of road closed, Sac bridge washed out
April showers have brought nothing but May downpours in the region this spring. Storms over the weekend pelted the area with over 5 inches more rain, flooded out basements and farm fields, and some damages were seen from winds estimated at nearly 50 miles per hour. Elsewhere in northwest Iowa, hail was reported.
Linn Grove has been placed under an ongoing flash flood warning. Over the weekend, the Little Sioux River swelled from under 17 feet to almost 19 feet, and the crest could reach nearly 21 feet, officials said. Flood stage on the river is 18 feet. The Little Sioux's waters were racing at nearly 4,000 cubic feet per second Monday.
Statewide, officials issued warnings to keep people away from flooding bodies of water, and pleaded with anyone who needs to be near the water to use life jackets.
At least three local cities reported major bypass spills as their wastewater plants struggled to keep up with the deluge.
At Storm Lake, wastewater was being discharged from manholes into the lake for 10 hours Sunday. The city also pumped water from a manhole into Poor Farm Creek, and was discharging from the treatment plant's basin into Outlet Creek at a rate of 235,000 gallons daily.
Alta was again forced to discharge wastewater into a creek leading to the Maple River Sunday, for the third time this season.
Albert City had to discharge wastewater for three hours Sunday to stop flooding of its water plant. About 700,000 gallons was released into a drainage ditch that feeds the Raccoon River.
"The normal daily flow for the plant at Storm Lake is 3 million gallons. On Sunday, they were pumping at a daily rate of more than 20 million gallons at one point and still couldn't keep up," said Ken Hessenius, supervisor of the DNR's field office in Spencer.
Bypassing is an environmental concern, but can lower the water level in the collection system, keeping sewage from backing up into basements, which would present health risks. Wastewater plants are being constructed today to deal with up to two-inch rainfalls in an hour, combined with high groundwater levels and peak sewage flow from communities. Many cities are considered in need of upgrades to older systems.
"While facilities should not have to bypass, sometimes nature gives facilities more rain than they can handle," said Barb Lynch, head of the DNR's environmental field services.
In Storm Lake, that came in the form of over 1.8 inches of soaking rain on Saturday, followed by about 3.2 inches Sunday that the ground could not absorb. There are chances for more thundershowers this week, forecasters predict.
The DNR has formed a committee to discuss how it handles wet weather bypasses.
"Bypasses enter the streams and lakes that Iowans use for fishing, swimming, boating and for drinking water. Because of this, and for the fish and plants that live in the water, bypassing needs to be minimized as much as possible," said Lynch.
According to Storm Lake City Clerk Justin Yarosevich, the Storm Lake water plant worked at maximum capacity on Sunday.
"Around 3 A.M. on Sunday we contacted personal to help get the plant running at full capacity," Yarosevich said. "Around 3:30 in the afternoon we had most of the pressure off the main lines. But there may have still been a few isolated spots."
Yarosevich said that the city had received a few phone calls from citizens concerned about the Wastewater Treatment system.
"There is no way to be able to design a system that would be able handle what we have had over the last six months," Yarosevich said. "We usually only have about six inches of rain and right now we have over 12 inches. It is a rare event, not in getting six inches of rain, but the fact of the rain on top of the snow and other weather we have had."
The lake level in Storm Lake has risen steadily this season, but is still short of the "100 years flood" level of 1993, which swamped most of the docks.
Many people found their basements flooded, one home in Lakeside reporting four feet of standing water.
Due to the conditions, Yarosevich urged people cleaning out flooded basements to wear rubber gloves and wash hands thoroughly after any contact with the standing water.
"If people are curious about the proper way of cleaning the area they should contact County Environmental Health Director Kim Johnson," Yarosevich said.
Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Julie Severs, in Storm Lake, voiced concern about the amount of erosion that has been happening around the area as well.
"We have lost more soil (Sunday) then we have for a long, long time," Sievers said. "The ground is very saturated and even though planting has begun there is not plant life yet to help fight erosion."
Not only is sediment moving into the area's water system, but so will be chemicals and nutrients used on agland.
Sievers recommends that private property owners who have noticed runoff on their property to contact NRCS, Iowa State Extension office or the DNR's Private Property Biologist for some possible resources to help combat the erosion.
Sievers also voice concern about bacteria in the water.
"It is recommend not to have contact with the water because of bacteria that could exist in the water," Sievers said. "What we really need is a few good days of strong sunshine."
According to County Engineer Jon Ites, there has been some damage done to county roads.
"(Sunday), we had 15-16 miles of road that we had to block off," Ites said. "We don't have any roads out but Sac County lost a bridge near the county border."
According to Ites, it will take some time before all the damage can be repaired.
"We have to wait to see what the weather is going to do and then evaluate what has happened," Ites said. "It will probably be about midsummer before all the ditches are cleaned out."
Sheriff Chuck Eddy has been around to some of the areas where flooding has been reported, but said the conditions have not resulted in any accidents or other harm. Offcials encourage rural drivers to avoid wet roads.
"You don't know what its underneath the water," Ites said. "It could be hole or something else."
Children should be warned not to not play near swollen creeks or rivers, storm drains, culverts and bridges, or on flooded streets and roadways.
As wet as conditions are in Storm Lake, they are much worse in other areas of the state.
Nearly 1,600 residents of Red Oak were awakened at 3 a.m. Monday for a voluntary evacuation as flood waters rose. Some chose to ignore the warning. National Guard troops were called in to help sandbag areas along the Nishnabotna River.
Numerous farm homes were damaged by storms across the state. At least one tornado was confirmed, a twister that touched down near Atlantic, according to the National Weather Service.
Hail struck in a wide swatch from the southwest corner of the state to Estherville in the north.
Farmers suffered some damages. Some crusting of the topsoil has occurred that could ruin or reduce yields on areas where farmers planted early, and wet fields are delaying the start of field work season across the state.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Spirit Lake, said that farmers have had less than four days suitable for field work so far this season, far behind the pace of a year ago. "We need to get back into the fields, he said."