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This City Turned to Technology for Flood Protection

Dubuque, Iowa

Life in a river town.

Life in Dubuque, Iowa is filled with beautiful scenery. The river flows between tree-covered bluffs. Eagles soar overhead. Foliage signals the change of seasons. And seeing it all reflected back at you from the water of the mighty Mississippi River is incredible.

Beauty aside, the Mississippi River challenges Dubuque and its surrounding riverfront communities year after year. Spring melt-off always sends additional water to the river, swelling its outer banks. The increase in water flowing down the river can easily become a destructive force. You know the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”? I think of it more as, “April showers bring May floods.” 

How many times have you heard about rivers flooding and causing major damage to a community? If you live along a river, it’s likely that you think about it much more than those whose awareness comes from the occasional news alert. Of course, flooding concerns aren’t exclusive to river towns. Heavy rains and other natural phenomena aren’t picky about where they’ll strike next.  Just ask Phoenix or Detroit.  Or, for a really tough lesson, ask New Orleans.

Learning from the past.

More than a decade later, Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused in and around the City of New Orleans is still fresh in many minds. In the case of Katrina, much of the destruction was caused by a catastrophic failure in the levee system, a failure that sent water rushing into the city and surrounding areas, flooding everything in its path.

The Flood Control Act of 1965 was passed to enable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct numerous flood control projects. The New Orleans region was chosen as a site for one of those projects. So was the City of Dubuque.

Before its Flood Control System was implemented, Dubuque experienced flood damage on a near-annual basis. 1965 was one of those years. The Mississippi River crested almost 20 feet above flood stage, causing millions of dollars in damage to private and public property. Thanks to the Flood Control Act, Dubuque was the recipient of a five-mile-long floodwall and levee system along the Dubuque riverfront.

Looking toward the future. 

But that was 1965.  And, like any public asset, Flood Protection System assets generally depreciate over time. Not long ago, the City of Dubuque re-approached its floodwall and levee system with fresh eyes. They envisioned a riverfront that continued to protect the city, but could also serve as an amenity for citizens and tourists to enjoy. The result is the city’s Mississippi Riverwalk, a feature that’s become a staple for residents and a must-see attraction for visitors.

While many of the riverfront improvements were intended to enhance the usability and appeal of the area, just as many improvements were made to bolster the city’s Flood Protection System. To help maintain the beauty, safety, and integrity of the area, Dubuque partnered with Cartegraph in the development of a technology solution designed specifically for managing and maintaining the 6 assets most associated with flood protection -- floodwalls, levee embankments, floodgates, pumps, generators, and the pump station facilities that house the equipment. 

Each asset is integral to the protection of Dubuque or any city that’s susceptible to flooding. If any part of the system fails, catastrophic results could occur. The best way to extend the lives of these critical assets is with regular, proactive maintenance and management. And that’s what the Cartegraph Flood Protection solution helps organizations do.

What you can do. 

Whether your community performs its own routine inspections, or the USACE provides the service for you, the integrity of a Flood Protection System relies on diligent approaches to repairing previous flood damage, animal burrows, the routine effects of aging, and other factors capable of degrading the assets. With repairs and scheduled preventative maintenance, the expected life of your assets can be reasonably predicted, allowing you to stay ahead of the curve, and knowing when to replace assets before your system fails.

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