You can almost hear the smile in Jennie Ash's voice as she answers the phone caller's question: "We certainly are." Ash, co-owner of Front Street Brewery, gets several of those phone calls when River Drive is closed because of flooding, like it was for several days last week.
She remembers when the fledgling brewpub at 208 E. River Drive was inundated with floodwaters in 1993 as the Mississippi River reached 22.63 feet.
Tuesday will be the 20th anniversary of that historic record crest. Flood stage is 15 feet at Locks and Dam 15.
When the river rose, Ash and husband/partner Steve Zuidema would raise things off the floor, start a series of pumps and sleep at the brewpub, just in case. In 1993, a levee built by property owners along the floodplain gave way. Floodwaters filled Front Street's basement, destroyed a 1,000-gallon batch of beer and left several inches of water on the main floor.
"That was by far the worst," Ash said.
Not just for her and Zuidema, but for the city of Davenport, too.
Since that massive flood, and the near-record floods of 2001, 2008 and 2011, Davenport leaders have worked to flood-proof the city's downtown.
City takes over
The city took over flood-fighting for River Drive properties such as Front Street and honed its flood plan. Houses and other buildings were removed from flood-prone areas. Structures that could withstand flooding, such as the Figge Art Museum and skybridge, were built. A floodwall, mostly federally funded, is currently being built around Iowa American Water's riverfront water treatment plant in Davenport.
The city still had failures along the way. In 2001, a levee around Modern Woodmen Park failed, leaving it filled with floodwater, and when that receded, mud. City Administrator Craig Malin arrived late in 2001 and vowed not to let a flooded ballpark be an emblem of the city.
"We've taken things out of harm's way," he said. "We have a more cost-effective approach to floods and more environmentally friendly city.
"We are a leader in floodplain management. What we're doing now is a 100th of what it used to be."
In 1993, residents of the Garden Addition were ordered from their homes over fears a levee protecting the neighborhood would fail. News accounts of the time show then-Mayor Pat Gibbs nose to nose with residents refusing to leave. The neighborhood stayed dry.
"The only time we ever really had water down here was '65," said Jim Piepers, a long-time resident of the Garden Addition.
The Garden Addition changed anyway. Homes in the most flood-prone part of the neighborhood were bought out and razed. The area was turned into a park with retention ponds. The levee was re-enforced and raised to 26 feet. Pumps start when water starts rising.
"They did a good job down here by taking down the houses here," Piepers said. "We don’t have any water down here anymore."
Using new techniques
Technology has changed flood-fighting. Gone are the army of volunteers to fill sandbags and stack them around Union Station and Modern Woodmen Park. In their place is a flood wall that can be put up and taken down to protect the ballpark and a sandbag-filling machine that can do more in less time than a horde of volunteers.
When Public Works Director Mike Clarke arrived in 2009, he recommended sand-filled Hesco bastions replace sandbags for protection on River Drive and Credit Island. What once took days now takes hours.
"We had to be thinking three weeks in advance for something that is not well defined," he said of flood preparation. "We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t spend an awful lot of money to fight floods anymore."
The Mississippi River went over flood stage four times this year. For the first time, no volunteers were sought to help with flood preparation. The river topped 19 feet in April and went above 16 feet in May, costing the city $309,398 to fight the two floods. Costs aren't available for the recent flood that crested at just above 18 feet last weekend. The city's flood-fighting costs used to go into the millions.
"We are purchasing a sandbagging machine," Clarke said. "That was the last piece of technology that was needed.
"A lot of people were surprised that we didn’t need volunteers to fill sandbags. We just needed a couple of guys. It has been a learning curve for a lot of people to put their faith in the expertise of the sewers or streets workers.
"What we have is a very anti-climatic event. The water comes up, it goes down; we take the barriers down and clean up and on we go."
Although devastating at the time, the 1993 flood, the fight and failure are nostalgia to friends and customers who tried to help Front Street, which opened in October 1992.
"They still come in with fond memories," Ash said of customers.
More than a week ago, she heard the workers arrive to build the most recent Hesco wall. Ash knew they would be done in a day. The Front Street owners still turn on the pumps and raise equipment off the basement floor when the river rises, but they don't sleep at the brewpub anymore, keeping an eye on things through security cameras.
"You have a checklist of what you have to get done," she said. "It is stressful, but not like it was."