DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to slowly lower an inflatable dam Thursday to release some of the water that's been building in a lake threatening to overflow and flood a Des Moines neighborhood.
The dam was installed as a temporary fix for the rapidly rising waters in Saylorville Lake, north of the city. The lake and the Des Moines River below it swelled with snowmelt after heavy June rain, and on Wednesday the lake's water level had almost reached the top of the temporary dam.
Des Moines residents were nervously watching to see how the release would effect a vulnerable levee protecting one of the city's downtown neighborhoods, Birdland.
According to the Corps, beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, some 37,000 cubic feet of water will be released per second — the equivalent of 55,000 people pouring out five gallons of water every second.
The river was expected to crest later Thursday near the levee protecting Birdland, where the rising waters have sewn feelings of unease among its residents and city officials.
Thursday's controlled release was expected to be the critical test for the levee, which failed twice before, in 1993 and 2008, allowing floodwaters to inundate the working-class neighborhood.
Residents were frustrated over the possibility the levee could break again, 17 years after talks first began on building a new levee to protect the area.
"There is quite a bit of frustration," said Larry Clark, a Birdland resident. "It takes 17 years to fix a levee? C'mon."
Andrew Krantz of Eagle Iron Works said he and other residents are upset that the slow pace of building a new levee could irrevocably damage the community, driving residents and investment away.
"They want industry here. They want business, they want people here. How do you build this? This is not the way," he said.
Bill Heinold, a flood risk management coordinator for the Army Corps of Engineers, said it took five years to win congressional approval of a Corps feasibility study for the new levee. Authorization for construction didn't come until 2007, and it took another two years for the funding to be approved.
He said he understood why residents in the 200-home neighborhood were annoyed.
"I would be too if I were them," he said. "I wish it were faster. If I had the power to make it faster, I would."
Construction of the levee had been slated to start in June but was delayed because of weeks of heavy rain.
"We recommended that the contractor not start that construction, of course, because for him to punch a hole in the levee right now and start reconstructing it ... that would be suicide," Heinold said.
He said construction would have to wait until the river retreated, which may not happen until August.
The city was monitoring the river and levees although the river was expected to stay within the levee system when it crests Thursday evening at 27.4 feet, more than 4 feet about flood stage, according to the Army Corps of Engineer' river gauge website.
The record crest is 31.7 feet during the flood of 1993. In 2008, the river reached 31.6 feet.
A few days of sunny and dry weather provided some relief and led the Corps to delay the planned release of water from Wednesday until Thursday.
Authorities have not ordered residents to evacuate the area, but some have packed up and headed to higher ground in recent days.
Clark said he planned to stay.
"I'm going to stay here until they make me leave and protect what we've got here," he said.
Associated Press Writer Luke Meredith contributed to this report.
Army Corps of Engineer, http://www2.mvr.usace.army.mil/WaterControl/new/layout.cfm