Globe Gazette: Officials prep for the next big flood

Officials prep for the next big flood

By Richard Johnson
Globe Gazette

MASON CITY — Severe flooding has led to 14 disaster declarations in Iowa since 1990, said State Rep. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

The 2008 flood caused an estimated $3 billion in damage in Cedar Rapids.

“If we don’t change after 2008 and 1993, what’s it going to take?” Hogg said. “Let’s have a dialogue about some of the things that we can do. We all need to take responsibility.”

He joined other state and local officials this past week for a seminar, “Anatomy of Iowa Floods: Preparing for the Future,” at North Iowa Area Community College.

Panelists discussed flood plain management strategies, water quality issues, building rural-urban watershed coalitions, state and public policy issues, and increasing precipitation and water run-off in Iowa.

Cedar Falls Councilman Frank Darrah discussed his city’s re-written flood plain ordinance, which includes no new development in what’s now called a 500-year flood plain.

Charles City Mayor Jim Erb said he’d like an alliance of urban and rural interests.

“I don’t think without both we’ll be successful in making much progress,” he said. “We clearly have been very successful in draining the land, but in doing that we’re taking a lot of water and accelerating how quickly it goes into the river, so therefore you get higher levels quicker.

“I’m all in favor of a regulatory approach to flood plain issues,” Erb said. “I congratulate them on putting together the program, and I hope we’re able to pursue a positive plan for the entire watershed.”

Increased water retention and infiltration would reduce pollution and flood damage, said Bill Ehm, water policy coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“Let the flood plain be a flood plain,” he said. “Keep it undeveloped.”

Hogg noted that disaster mitigation was funded this year through the I-JOBS initiative, and legislation has passed to mitigate future flood damage.

He said all communities should be involved in the National Flood Insurance Program, and suggested paying landowners who help in floodwater prevention, and improvements such as rain gardens.

“We need to change,” Hogg said. “We need to organize.”

The seminar was hosted by the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, the Rebuild Iowa office, the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension, Iowa League of Cities, and the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Did You Know?

• Annual rainfall plus snowfall in Iowa has increased by 19 percent since the 1870s.

• Rainfall increase has been largest in spring and early summer, except in southeast Iowa, where fall rains have increased.

• Days with rainfall in excess of 1.25 inches have been more frequent.

• Stream and river flow have increased by 20 percent in the past 20 years.

• Spring soil moisture has been near saturation more frequently.

• Rainfall in the next 10 to 15 years will be like the past 20 years.

• Drought frequency in the next 10 to 20 years will be more like the 1950s to 1980s than the 1990s to the present.

• A wider variation between rainfall extremes will emerge in the next 30 years and beyond.

— Iowa State University Climate Science Program (


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