If there was a persistent story this year it was weather-related. Recent days have featured conversation-worthy snowfall and ice. But it was the floods of 08 that defined the year.
Over several months, the waters inundated thousands of homes and millions of acres. The cost is still being tabbed, but the floods are easily the state’s most costly natural disaster ever.
It was early enough in the Spring that during Governor Chet Culver's tour of flood-damaged areas, he expressed optimism.
Governor Chet Culver, Cedar Rapids, April 29, 2008: "The good news overall is we're certainly well below '93 levels in most of these places. Here in Cedar Rapids, we're fortunately two feet below the 93 flood levels and the river is already crested."
That confidence would be shaken about 1 1/2 months later. June 13, the Cedar River crested five feet above the 500 year flood level. It inundated nearly 10 square miles of Cedar Rapids under water. By late August, the flood damage had resulted in nearly 75-thousand tons of debris, caused $500 million dollars in infrastructure damages and impacted nearly 54-hundred homes. That's just one Iowa city.
Statewide, nine Iowa rivers crested at record levels. Damages ranged from the flooding of 16 buildings at the University of Iowa in Iowa City ... to an estimated devastation of 1.2 million acres of corn and soybeans ... to the loss of more than 4,000 hogs.
Storms caused 85 of the state's 99 counties to be declared Presidential Disaster Areas.
The Rebuild Iowa Office says nearly 40,000 Iowans have registered with FEMA for disaster assistance. And disaster assistance for both residents and governments stands at more than $1.3 billion.
While most damage estimates are in, the decisions on how best to rebuild and put future flood controls in place – are still being negotiated.
Army Corps at meeting: "we want to present to you 3 options tonight ..."
The Army Corps of Engineers recently met in Wapello with residents in Levee District 11 ... where parts of two levees broke in June.
It is an emotional issue for area residents.
Warren Kemper, Wapello: "We have to have the levee there to keep highway 99 there."
Jerry Skalak, Army Corps of Engineers –Rock Island District, December 17, 2008: "Now in order to qualify for that repair, they do have to meet a, what's called a benefit/cost ratio which is actually an economic evaluation of the cost of the repairs versus the benefits or outputs of actually restoring the levy back to the pre-flood condition."
The Army Corps of Engineers says at least 30 levee districts in Iowa have asked for its help to rebuild levees.
The Army Corps is also charged with reviewing new floodplain proposals – which includes the one billion dollar flood protection plan approved in November by the Cedar Rapids City Council.