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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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STORM WATER MANAGEMENT. The primary function of the City of Dubuque's stormwater management program was to manage storm water where it fell. This included passing stormwater through the property or simply managing the storm water that originated on the property.

Limestone sewers were erected in the late 1880s to early 1900s. Constructed with the intent of carrying off rainwater, the sewers often received "dishwater and all kinds of filth thrown promiscuously into the alleys." The result was described as:

              Coming down 8th Street a few evenings ago, a smell
              came up that made one think he was in a fertilizer
              factory or a last year's packing house. (1)

In 1992 nearly $100,000 was budgeted for upkeep of these sewers which were still used. (2)

A city ordinance was passed in 1995 requiring developers to create no more runoff than naturally would occur. (3)

Annually stormwater management projects and programs were identified in the five year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget to maintain and improve the City's existing drainage system. Projects ranged from the construction of new detention basins and the extension of storm sewer systems to the rehabilitation of existing storm sewer systems. Programs ranged from public ditch, storm sewer, and detention basin maintenance to a program to maintain and improve the water quality of storm water runoff. Although there were large diameter storm sewers, approximately 80 were only 15-inch in diameter.

Many drainage problems were of a localized nature, involving the drainage of only a few residences. However, due to a growing number of citizen complaints, the City Council authorized the development of a Drainage Basin Master Plan (DBMP) for two of the major watersheds - the North Fork Catfish Creek and Bee Branch drainage basins. The 2001 DBMP determined that approximately 1,150 homes and businesses were at risk of flood damage during heavy rains and it recommended a series of improvements in both watersheds costing an estimated $2.135 million. These included: (4) '

                    1. increase the storage area of the Northwest Arterial detention cell by 56%,
                    2. build a concrete wall near a culvert underneath Pennsylvania Avenue and
                       Kennedy Road to pool water rather than allow it to flood,
                    3. make the natural channel deeper between Key Way Drive and the Northwest
                       Arterial allowing more water to flow within the creek banks,
                    4. replace culverts under Key Way with reinforced concrete box culverts,
                    5. build an additional culvert under Rosemont Street

It was at this time that the first indication of the scope of the BEE BRANCH restoration plan was announced.

The estimated cost of the DBMP improvements was $24 million at a time when the city was spending about $1.7 million annually. To implement the master plan and upgrade maintenance over the next 25 years, the city needed to spend an estimated $2.8 million annually. It was in 2002 that the council first considered starting a stormwater utility that would charge all property owners according to the amount of stormwater their buildings and pavement prevented the ground from absorbing. (5)

In 2003 the Stream Bank Rehabilitation Assistance Program was approved by the Dubuque city council. Funded through Dubuque's stormwater management utility, the program provided about $20,000 annually to match qualifying residential project costs. According to the guidelines, residents had to do the work on their own with the city providing materials and suggestions. Materials ranged from rip-rap rock to erosion-control mats to stabilize stream banks. (6)

Widening the stream bed from the Northwest Arterial to Pennsylvania Avenue included removing trees and other plants and tapering the banks during the winter and spring of 2010.
Flora Park rain garden. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Laying new sewer lines took place during the winter of 2010.
Addressing the flooding of the North Fork of Catfish Creek, the culverts under Keyway Drive were reconstructed during the spring of 2010.

Rain gardens had been established at FLORA PARK as early as 2009. Seeking to correct a chronic wet area in a natural drainage slope, the existing topsoil was replaced with porous, sandy soil. This soaked up the water and allowed it to slowly seep back into the ground. (7)

As part of a settlement with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding sanitary sewer overflows and untreated wastewater discharges from 2002 through 2007, Dubuque was required to perform several improvements to the sanitary sewer system and pollution control plant. A citywide study in 2009 revealed that large amounts of storm water made its way into the sanitary sewer. While some water seeped through leaky sewer lines and manholes, the largest problem was properties diverting storm water into the sanitary sewer system through sump pumps and other water collection systems. As part of the solution, home inspections in several areas of the city included downspouts going underground, sump pump collections, and drains in garages and basements. (8)

In 2011 the fourth annual Low-Impact Development Workshop focused on a variety of stormwater management practices. The goal was to recreate an area's natural water retention characteristics after construction keeping runoff out of sewers and nearby streams and rivers. Ideas already in place were permeable pavement in North Fork Trails subdivision which prevented stormwater from running directly into Catfish Creek. Stormwater retention chambers were planned under the new dormitories and park lots of the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE to protect adjoining properties. (9) "Rain gardens," depressions dug into the soil and planted with native wildflowers, were developed into the plans of Whispering Meadows subdivision off MILITARY ROAD. Once the developer found the land was part of a CATFISH CREEK study area, he along with the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors and the Dubuque County Soil and Water Conservation District constructed the gardens on each lot to achieve an interconnected system. A "rain garden" street was also planned. (10)

Recognizing that storm water problems do not end at county or state borders, the Leagues of Women Voters in Dubuque County and Jo Daviess County, Illinois joined to host "Storm Water from Ground Up," a conference, at the E. B. LYONS INTERPRETATIVE CENTER in June, 2014. One of the potential goals was to create a regional partnership to advocate for issues specific to regions adjacent to the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Proper storm water management was important in preventing groundwater contamination. Those in attendance were also instructed in the benefits of maintaining a rain barrel and installing a rain garden. (11)

Studies in 2017 indicated the efforts to slow stormwater and reduce flooding in the North End area were succeeding. A draft map indicated the removal of homes along West 32nd, Carter Road, Kaufmann Avenue and around COMISKEY PARK. Modeling also indicated extended protection by the FLOODWALL from either a 200-year or 500-year flood for property stretching from East 223nd to East 26th STREETS. Flood area were not going to exist because of work on the Carter Road and West 32nd street detention basins and improvements to the lower BEE BRANCH and 16th Street detention basin. It was expected that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Iowa Department of Natural Resources would use the information to revise maps designating areas likely to flood. The last revision was in 2011. (12)




1. "Stifle the Stink," Dubuque Daily Herald, August 17, 1890, p. 4.

2. Japson, Bruce. "Experts Urge Cities to Examine Tunnels," Telegraph Herald, April 19, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920419&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. Coyle, Erin, "Council OKs NW Arterial Stoplight," Telegraph Herald, November 20, 2001, p. 2A

4. Coyle, Erin, "Draining Water a Pain," Telegraph Herald, June 23, 2002, p. 7A

5. Coyle, Erin, "Panel Considers Drainage Fees," Telegraph Herald, October 10, 2001, p. 1A

6. Nevans-Pederson, Mary, "If You Build It, The Water Won't Come," Telegraph Herald, July 24, 2006, p. 2

7. Piper, Andy, "Rain Gardens Sprout Up in Flora Park," Telegraph Herald, September 17, 2009, p. 3

8. Piper, Andy, "City Targets Sanitary Sewer Violations," Telegraph Herald, May 23, 2011, p. 1A

9. Piper, Andy, "Conference to Focus on Stormwater Management," Telegraph Herald, January 27, 2011, p. 5

10. Piper, Andy, "Subdivision Promises Residents a Rain Garden," Telegraph Herald, July 6, 2011, p. 1

11. Jacobson, Ben, "Seminars to Focus on Proper Stormwater Management," Telegraph Herald, June 25, 2014, p. 5

12. Barton, Thomas J., "Draft Map: Fewer Dubuque Properties at Risk of Flooding," Telegraph Herald, June 26, 2017, p. 1A