September 2, 2014

Cedar River named one of America’s “most endangered”

The 300-mile long Cedar River that runs through Cedar Rapids and ends near Columbus Junction has been named one of America’s “most endangered” rivers by an environmental group. Shana Udvardy is director of flood management policy for the “American Rivers” group.

“The Cedar River is a special place for its habitat and recreational opportunities,” Udvardy says. The primary reason the Cedar River has been designated as the fifth most endangered river in the country is because of “outdated flood management.” The Cedar River flooded nearly two years ago, swamping 10-square miles of Cedar Rapids.

Udvardy says her group designated the Cedar River as among the country’s “most endangered” because looming policy decisions will determine future flood control policy. “Not just levies, but there are a lot of nonstructural solutions that can help ensure that water absorbs into the ground and gets back into the (river) system naturally,” Udvardy says.

Udvardy’s group is urging congress and the Iowa legislature to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to protect wetlands and restore floodplains in the entire Cedar River basin — both upstream and downstream from Cedar Rapids — as a way to help prevent future flooding.

“Flooding is going to put people in harm’s way and it’s also going to degrade not only the community’s safety, but environmental health as well — water quantity and water quantity,” Udvardy says, “because the water will be rushing through the system much quicker.”

The mayor of Cedar Rapids and representatives of the Iowa Environmental Council, The Nature Conservancy of Iowa and a group called Iowa Rivers Revival joined Udvardy today at a news conference today in Cedar Rapids. According to American Rivers, 90% of the wetland areas in the Cedar River basin have been “destroyed” and hundreds of acres of floodplains have been filled in and developed as housing tracts or industrial areas.

The group calculates the flow of the Cedar River has doubled in the last half century. Two severe rounds of flooding have hit Cedar Rapids in the past 15 years. The Cedar River’s headwaters are near Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, and the Cedar joins the Iowa River near Columbus Junction. The Iowa River’s waters then drain into the Mississippi.