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Solutions for Future Iowa Floods

posted on June 2, 2009 at 2:03 PM

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When it comes to how to best mitigate flooding -- there seems to be no shortage of solutions.

In rural areas, suggestions include increasing the number of wetlands and other conservation measures to prevent surface run-off of floodwaters.

In urban areas, some city leaders want to remove buildings from floodplain to allow more room for water to spread out without damaging property. Moving structures could also help curb the amount of trash and other contaminants from homes and buildings going downstream.

If such solutions are valid, why aren't they being done to a greater extent?

Urban buy-outs -- and rural conservation programs … are voluntary.

So, should they be mandatory? Especially if such measures can better mitigate flooding statewide?

At least one statehouse senator says "yes".

Sen. Rob Hogg, (D) Cedar Rapids: "My hope is that we can deal with it on a voluntary basis, but if after we've gotten the information together, after we've set up the structure to deal with it, if its clear that we're not making enough progress on simply voluntary measures then at the end of the day I think we do need to look at mandatory measures."

Hogg says while mandatory measures would be a last resort, he agrees with many who study the ways of water -- that decisions should be made on a watershed basis.

A watershed is an area of land that drains into lakes or streams.

Managing resources on a watershed basis is already done is some parts of the world.

Larry Weber, Director, IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa: "We need to start thinking about our watersheds as our planning boundaries. As our administrative boundaries as we look to the future. We look to Third World and Developing Countries right now that have developed interagency integrated water resources counsels and start to work on their flood mitigation plans and their water quality plans on a watershed boundary basis. And that is a lesson that we need to learn and we need to learn it very quickly. If we want to try to work together along the river and help our high value uh municipalities uh co-exist with our very productive landscape then you need to take a watershed approach."

In addition to a watershed approach, there is a proposal to establish an Iowa Flood Center. To be located at the University of Iowa , the center would work to help better predict and manage floods.

Larry Weber, director, IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa, Iowa City: "Many of the existing models that are used to forecast the flood inundation or the flood elevation at gauges along the river are based on historical data. And that historical data um may not uh accurately forecast what's going to happen in the future. So we're developing also technologies that account for changes in the landscape and allow for changes in climate."

But the science does not come without a price tag. To establish a Flood Center, The University of Iowa applied for a $25 (M) dollar federal grant. And in the final days of the Iowa legislative session, the General Assembly approved $1.3 (M) million dollars toward the project.

With or without money, some say one thing IS certain. If nothing is done -- Iowa could someday see a repeat of 2008.

Tom Cox, Refuge Manager, Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, Wapello: "What we think we know can change at anytime. ... A lot of people who lived through '93 who felt that, oh we're going to be okay. And, and I've been through a couple big floods here now, and the next one can be bigger and, and change is coming and, and we are going to have to address it."

Kamyar Enshayan, City Council, Cedar Falls: "This is something, every locality needs to take the floodplain seriously. It's not, its not something we can just ignore. And I really think it's kind of like 9/11, you know, there’s before 9/11, there's after 9/11. There's before flood of 2008, after flood of 2008. This flood should make is really think hard."

Sen. Rob Hogg, (D) Cedar Rapids: "If people across our state say, 'well, that was 2008 and now we're back to business as usual, we'll forget about it until the next flood.' Um, no guarantees that, that state government will, will take care of it. So this fundamentally gets down to a choice for the Iowa, for the people of Iowa. Do the people of Iowa want us to deal with this or not?"

Tags: floods future global warming HEAT Iowa rural water water quality wetlands

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