Project History

The Problem

In May of 1999 many Dubuque citizens living in the Bee Branch Watershed were waiting out a tornado warning in their basement when heavy rains produced a very personal disaster that shook their lives. As Dubuque resident Mike Hillard said in the May 20, 1999 edition of the Telegraph Herald, “It was evacuate the tornado shelter or drown. Our freezer was just bobbing.” And resident Faith Kraemer said, "As the water came up, we could hear everything banging around down there, and glass breaking.” According to the newspaper, hundreds of basements were flooded.

Following the 1999 storm, the City expended $275,000 for an engineering study called the Drainage Basin Master Plan (DBMP). Completed in the fall of 2001, the DBMP determined that approximately 1,150 homes and businesses are at risk of flood damage during heavy rains. Heavy rains came again 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010 and most recently in July of 2011. Six Presidential Disaster Declarations were issued with total damage estimates of almost $70 million.

The Solution

In addition to identifying the at risk properties, the DBMP recommended major infrastructure projects to eliminate the risk of flood damage. The City of Dubuque understands that many citizens throughout Dubuque must occasionally deal with flooded basements. And in some cases, citizens must deal with stormwater stretching across the street from curb to curb. But nowhere else in the City of Dubuque does basement flooding reach the rafters endangering the lives of our fellow citizens. That is why the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project remains one of the Dubuque City Councils top priorities.

Alignment Study

In August 2003, the Dubuque City Council formed a Bee Branch Citizen Advisory Committee to work on an Alignment Study with the engineering consulting firm Camp Dresser & McKee, Inc. along with the local engineering firm WHKS & Co. to determine the location and preliminary design of a means to channel water out of the North End and Washington Street neighborhoods.

Sixteen members were appointed to the committee. They represented the needs and views of impacted residents as the community sought a solution to the flooding problem. The committee’s goals were to form a consensus on what the final flood solution would look like, and to identify the homes and businesses that would be impacted.

The committee considered two potential solutions: an open waterway or an underground sewer. To help them evaluate the solutions they established six criteria. They were in order of importance: preservation of local businesses and services, minimization of property acquisitions, affordability, preservation of neighborhood access and connectivity, minimize health and safety risks, and impacts to quality of life and the environment.

After several committee, public, and neighborhood meetings, the committee’s alignment study was concluded in November of 2004. Following its presentation at a City Council work session, the City Council adopted the alignment recommended by the citizen advisory committee to create an open channel by “day-lighting” the Bee Branch Creek. 

Landscape Design

In the fall of 2008, the City hired the consulting team of Strand & Associates (Madison, WI), IIW Engineers (Dubuque, IA), and Ken Saiki Design (Madison, WI) to develop the final design for the Bee Branch Creek Restoration. The landscape design is one of the important elements of the project. In order to develop the community's vision for the project, the design team held a series of three public workshops. Based on citizen input, the design team developed a creek corridor concept and presented it for comment at the third workshop in February of 2009.

The design concept split the creek into two distinct sections, each with different characteristics: