Flood protection coming for Cedar Rapids wastewater treatment plant

$21 million project will include flood wall, earthen levee

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March 28, 2014 | 11:56 am

Come 2014, a devastating flood akin to the city’s historic 2008 one won’t hurt the city’s ability to treat what is flushed down toilets and what gets to the city’s wastewater treatment plant from the city’s sizable agricultural-processing industry.

The new protection for the city’s Water Pollution Control facility is coming in the form of a $21 million project — largely federally funded — that will add a flood wall and earthen levee around the facility at Bertram Road SE and Highway 13 that was inundated by flood water in 2008.

At some places the protection will reach 12 to 15 feet above the existing grade at the plant.

The 2008 flood knocked the plant offline for 12 days and forced it to limp along in very limited fashion for another month before it got back to full treatment capacity after three months, Steve Hershner, the city’s interim utilities director, recalled on Monday.

During part of that time, some local businesses brought in portable toilets for their employees, but in the end, much of the city’s wastewater made its way into the Cedar River without being cleaned up.

Hershner said the initial prediction in 2008 was that it was going to take the city nine to 12 months to get the flood-hit wastewater treatment plant back online, and he said such a threat prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to agree to pay for much of the cost of the plant’s new flood protection.

FEMA will cover 75 percent of the project cost or an estimated $15.7 million; the state of Iowa will pay 10 percent or $2.1 million; with the city paying $3.2 million or 15 percent of the cost.

"For such vital key infrastructure like a wastewater treatment facility, you want to ensure that it is protected and can recover as quickly as possible after a high-water event," Hershner said.

Federal disaster dollars also have helped the city raise its water wells along the Cedar River out of harm’s way. The 2008 flood knocked out all but one of the wells and nearly shut down the city’s ability to produce drinking water.

Hershner said the flood protection project at the Water Pollution Control facility will start with the construction of new sewer lines and a pumping station on the facilities grounds with the work on the flood wall and earthen levees to begin later this year. The project should be complete by the fall of 2014, he said.

Bids for the construction will be opened on March 13.

The city’s Water Pollution Control plant is the state’s largest in terms of the loads it must clean, with the majority of the waste coming from the city’s agricultural-processing plants.

The plant, which opened in 1980, treats wastewater from Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Robins and Palo.

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