Richard Warner, D.D.S.
Warner Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs
Richard Warner, D.D.S. Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
(Story by Dr. Richard Warner)
Indian Creek- Putting a Creek in a Conduit
Most Council Bluffs residents go through a typical day completely oblivious to the fact there is a stream running right through the heart of the city. In years past Indian Creek was much more in the forefront. To many businessmen and city leaders of the early 20th century "that general catch all for debris and refuse of every kind” that wound through the city and gave the business district a look “that was anything but sanitary” was a source of constant annoyance.
A survey by the city in 1910 found the area in the vicinity of the Sixth Street bridge was being used as a dump for bad eggs and food waste. A section two blocks east of Seventh Street showed it to be a collection place for old baskets, broken packing cases, paper, and tin utensils. The survey concluded that the area below 12th Street wasn’t as bad, but in the business district the “temptation to use the stream as a dumping place and open sewer seems too be to strong to be resisted.”
There was more at stake then just ambiance. The creek had a tendency to flood after heavy rains, causing a great deal of damage to surrounding property. By the time of the 1910 survey there had already been seven floods, including one the year prior that covered 75 blocks west of Sixth Street.
Indian Creek was subject only to rainfall-type floods, but its combination of a small drainage basin, precipitous valley slopes, and a steep channel gradient resulted in a quick concentration of runoff. This led to flooding over it’s banks within two hours after the onset of heavy rainfall.
A coordinated move to do something was slow in coming. Some took matters into their own hands. By 1910 Dr. F. P. Bellinger had constructed a concrete wall along the creek bank adjacent to his property, using the other side of concrete as the rear wall of his stable. Others advocated downtown businessmen band together to build more concrete walls to reduce flooding and open up the land close to the creek for commerce.
A study was done in 1920 and some improvements planned. The need for this was underscored even more greatly September 28, 1923 when the biggest flood of record occurred, creating extensive damage to the business district as far east as Bryant Street. More paving of channel walls followed, with the channel between Sixth Street and Bryant enclosed with concrete walls and a roof.
While this worked well to stop minor flooding, more aggressive measures were called for. A storm that dumped two inches of rainfall in less than a half hour again sent Indian Creek over is banks in 1932, and June 1935 saw the greatest flood of record, worse than any even before improvements were made.
As Council Bluffs prospered, property values throughout the downtown area escalated, putting an increasingly higher price tag on flood damage. In the 1930’s a study determined that losses the past quarter century had exceeded a million dollars, more than enough to finance a major flood control project that would “put the creek in a conduit” of concrete and double it’s channel capacity.
The 1938 project involved 7.1 miles of channel, with concrete lining throughout the railroad district and complete coverage in the business district. Sixty-one bridges spanned the channel throughout the area to be improved, creating challenges of accommodating the channel between the abutments of the existing bridges to avoid the expense of having to replace them. Walls were supported on pilings, and concrete was reinforced with steel in the uncovered portions sufficient to support a concrete slab cover should that ever desired in the future.
The extensive project brought much relief, but mother nature could still win one every now and then. A high volume of water rushing through the new concrete conduit developed a lot of pressure, enough to raise the deck of the Seventh Street Bridge several feet in the air in the midst of a June 20 flood just four years after the enhancements were completed. Another June flood in 1947 covered 148 blocks of the city in water. The monumental concrete project had helped, but more needed to be done.
The next phase of thinking began to focus on not so much the creek but the whole area that supplied it. Plans were made to include the complete Indian Creek watershed north of Council Bluffs. Many talks were held and studies done. Finally in the 1960s work began to move forward to control the watershed with dams, spillways, small lakes, and other measures. In all fifteen structures were built to manage water flow and control flooding.
To date it appears the problem has been resolved; at least a stream that managed to produce a terrible flood at least once or twice a decade and small floods every other year or so hasn’t left it’s banks in over fifty years.
Sixty-one bridges crossed over Indian Creek. Remnants of some can still be seen, lingering seven decades after the channel was covered over with concrete.
Frequent flooding not only brought water but also mud making streets impassible; photos show West Broadway following a flood in 1923.
Early stage construction at First Avenue near the Chicago & North Western railroad tracks.