Iowa Water Center City Spotlight: Cedar Rapids

By Joe Otto, Communications Specialist at the Iowa Water Center

The City Spotlight series highlights ongoing efforts by Iowans living in cities to address water issues impacting their neighborhoods.

 2019 will be a big year for flood control planning in downtown Cedar Rapids. The city’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year includes $35 to $40 million-dollars for flood protection – nearly double the amount of last year. With the 2020 fiscal year beginning on July 1 of this year, officials are actively exploring various options and drawing up plans. On top of the significant jump in local funding is an infusion of federal dollars amounting to $76 million in grants and $41 million in low-interest loans.

Already underway is the construction of a $14.2 million-dollar floodwall and pump station to protect the Quaker Oats factory, which sits downtown on the banks of the Cedar. This project was started during the previous fiscal year and is the largest and most expensive currently underway. Because rail access is crucial to the manufacturing facility, the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad will be realigned and outfitted with a floodgate. The railroad floodgate was partially funded by a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The city’s goal is to withstand another Flood of 2008. At the present, the city prepares for floods by setting up temporary defenses: movable barriers and portable pumping stations. The long-term vision is to integrate these defenses into a more permanent system. Additional pumps at existing pumping stations would reduce the city’s reliance on portable pumps, and enable city staff to focus on other tasks during times of emergency.

Future plans include large, rolling floodgates along major streets – similar to that constructed near Birdland Park and Guthrie Ave. in downtown Des Moines after the Floods of 1993.  A floodgate on 16th Ave where it spans the Cedar River would effectively link two sections of concrete wall on either side of the bridge. In the event of a flood, the gate would roll into place and seal up a vulnerable breach in the city’s flood defenses.

But the city is also committed to keeping the Cedar River connected to the downtown area. The 8th Avenue bridge is slated for replacement, which may also include pump stations, restrooms for the city’s outdoor amphitheater, a scenic overlook of the city’s riverscape, or possibly a vendor space for restaurants or shops. Upgrades to a recreational trail along the Sinclair Levee will include more benches and monuments honoring local historical figures. The city’s flood control manager, Rob Davis, has stated that the city intends to stick to its master plan, “which is not to wall us off from the river.” By incorporating economic and recreational development of the riverfront area into its flood protection planning, the city believes interaction with the Cedar River will remain a valuable attraction, despite the ongoing struggle to control its more uncontrollable elements.

Cedar Rapids has successfully directed state and federal funding streams into their downtown flood protection plans. Part of their success hinges on the city’s use of bonding and property taxes to raise matching funds from local sources – often a requirement for high-dollar, competitive grant programs. In 2018 the City Council approved a $264 million-dollar bonding plan, spread out over ten years, to raise the necessary local funds. The plan involves property tax raises of about 22 cents per year. As reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the sale of these bonds will be subject to a future vote by the City Council.

Anyone interested in commenting on the planning process as it moves forward is encouraged to attend regular City Council meetings. The City Council also intends to gather public input by scheduling public hearings, which residents are also encouraged to attend. For more information contact the City Manager’s office at 319-286-5051 or email at

Documentation of the city’s Stormwater Master Plan is available on the city’s website at

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Joe Otto is the Communications Specialist for the Iowa Water Center. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma, where he is writing a dissertation on the history of drainage in Iowa.



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Works Cited:

Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 5, 2019, “Cedar Rapids flood system takes leap forward in 2019: Now with federal aid, city doubles down on making progress.”

Accessed 1-8-2019.


“Stormwater Master Plan,” City of Cedar Rapids. Accessed 1-8-2019.