The Missouri River has dropped low enough for beleaguered Council Bluffs to relax some of its flood-related emergency measures.
On Tuesday, the Bluffs ended its Alert 1 status and the Iowa National Guard ended its patrols of the city's levees. Bluffs officials also said they would reopen their side of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and some riverside trails Saturday.
The bridge reopens at 7 a.m.
“Things seem to be headed in the right direction,” said Don Gross, a city spokesman.
Flood stage in the metro area is 29 feet. The river is now at about 31.5 feet, low enough along the levees that most of the danger from a breach has lessened, Gross said.
That Omaha has made no similar announcement has to do with the way flood protections have been handled, not the level of protection.
On the Omaha side, the Nebraska National Guard stopped patrolling the levees July 31, over the city's objections. Since then, city crews and private contractors have patrolled.
Additionally, Omaha didn't close access to the Bob Kerrey bridge because the Omaha side is largely commercial. Council Bluffs closed its side July 2 to keep gawkers out of an adjacent flood-damaged neighborhood and protect residents from additional stress.
Omaha has not put an official alert status in place because not nearly as many of its residents were at risk from a levee breach. About 30,000 Bluffs residents were at risk, while about 11,000 were in Omaha.
Even with the river dropping, both the Bluffs and Omaha remain at risk for flooding inside the levees from storm runoff. As recently as last week, an extraordinarily heavy rain flooded basements and damaged sewage systems and several low-lying industrial facilities.
Still, Omaha Public Works official Marty Grate agreed that much of the pressure is now off the levees.
Grate said the river needs to drop more before Omaha can open its flood gates and not rely so heavily on emergency pumps to empty stormwater into the river.
In the Bluffs, groundwater levels won't start dropping noticeably until the river drops to 23 feet to 25 feet, Gross said. That's what's been damaging Bluffs homes, not levee breaches.
“Well, it's good news, but it's the groundwater that's killing us,” said Kevin Jefferis, whose Playland Park basement was flooded last week. “Until the water table goes down, it's doing nothing for us. (Last week) my basement was full. There was no catching that, I had to pull the power. It was too much, too fast.”
Gross said the Bluffs is evaluating how much of the trail system along the river can reopen. Some remains under water and, in other areas, temporary asphalt ramps cover emergency pipes over the trails.
Also on Tuesday, Council Bluffs closed its flood call center, which had fielded questions this summer from the public.
The Alert 1 status had been in place since June as a way of warning people to have plans in place to evacuate should a breach or other sudden emergency occur.
Contact the writer: