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Army Corps of Engineers Learns Lessons From Previous Floods, New Strategy Paying Off at Saylorville Lake

JOHNSTON, Iowa  --  Lindsey Strable and her husband were thinking back to the floods of 2008 while catching bait fish in a flooded Des Moines River near North High School.

“We kinda talked about how they're managing the water flow now is better than it was 10 years ago,” said Strable.

Strable waded into the water to show how the bike path is now covered by several inches of water. However, conditions could be worse. Three years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers increased the amount of water they were letting out of Saylorville Lake from about 90,000 gallons of water per second to almost 120,000 gallons per second.

“It's definitely put us in a better position this year,” said Jeff Rose, operations project manager at the Saylorville Reservoir.

Rose says the plan was put in place after learning from past floods. It has allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the lake lower and make room for more rainfall or snow melt. Still, the lake is sitting at 866 feet, which is about 30 feet higher than normal. Rose says they need some help from Mother Nature.

“Stop raining. Especially in the northern part of the watershed. That area, for the last week, week and a half, has received a ton of rain, and everything that falls upstream ends up in the reservoir,” said Rose.

Even rain downstream has some Des Moines residents, like Irene Benefiel, worried about the future.

“The streets were flooded.  I haven't seen the streets flood right here in probably three years,” she said.

Benefiel lives near the Des Moines River on the south side. While she says she isn't worried about flood waters cresting the river just yet, water is still on her mind.

“I know I'm going to start pumping water, and I get really concerned all through that period because I'm worried about another storm coming and knocking out the electricity,” said Benefiel.

Current projections show Saylorville Lake hitting 880 feet around July 4th. Once the lake hits that mark, the Army Corps of Engineers' plan says they will start releasing an additional 7,500 gallons of water per second for every foot the lake rises.