Cyclist Jeff Cozad remembers exactly when rainwater began pooling on Davenport’s riverfront trail next to Iowa American Water’s water treatment plant, disrupting his commute to work.
“It’s been that way ever since they put the floodwall in to protect the water company,” said the now-retired Cozad, who biked every day for more than seven years (2009-2016) from his home in Bettendorf to his Deere & Co. job in downtown Moline.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of the 2,200-foot flood protection system in October 2013. It separates the plant’s property from the riverfront trail, and Cozad believes the grade of the recreational path was not properly adjusted when the floodwall was built. After heavy rains, he said, "There’s nowhere for the water to go.”
Davenport Parks and Recreation workers last week installed bright yellow swing gates along the trail near the eastern and western ends of the floodwall to alert users when rains inundate that area. The city is installing 12 identical gates in four other flood-prone areas along the riverfront trail and Duck Creek Parkway, and news of the additions has sparked pushback from cyclists familiar with the drainage issue.
“Water remains on the path two days after a rain, maybe more depending on the amount of rain,” said Jeremiah Johnson of Moline, who rides the riverfront trail to work at Healthy Habits in Bettendorf. "If it's closed when there's a puddle of water, people might get the idea they can't ride on it.
"It's completely safe to ride through a puddle," Johnson added. "I will go around the barricades because it’s still the safest way to travel that way."
And nothing will stop him or others from doing so, said Scott Hock, director of parks and recreation.
Parks staff this winter identified five sections along the riverfront trail and Duck Creek Parkway that regularly require barricades during flash floods or times of high water. The gates, which cost slightly more than $2,000 in all, allow Hock's staff to operate more efficiently and quickly, he said.
"In the past, we have had to scramble to find enough barricades to block off the path to protect trail users from going into these areas," Hock said. "This is no different than what we've always done."
The gates are padlocked, so only parks employees have the ability to swing them across the trail. They also plan to affix reflective tape to each gate.
"We do not plan on putting them up in anticipation of flooding, only when there is an actual safety issue along the trail," Hock said. "This isn't an uncommon practice."
He also confirmed city engineer Brian Schadt contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island District about the drainage issue near the water treatment plant.
Paul St. Louis, who manages the district's program that oversees requests for alterations to civil works projects, said the city is exploring potential changes to the river wall, which would require a special permit from the Corps. The federal agency owns the wall between the trail and the Mississippi River.
"We're working with them to find a solution to facilitate better drainage in that area," St. Louis said. "The river wall keeps water out, so we want to make sure the wall continues to perform as designed."
Once the issue is fixed, "we can easily remove the gates in that area," Hock said.