Flood talk fuels residents’ frustration
Expert panel says action is needed.
By Christinia Crippes
The Hawk Eye
Still recovering from the 2008 Flood, and the many flash floods since then, southeast Iowa residents were not ready to hear the words of a panel of experts on how to build smarter and better prepare for future disasters.
A panel representing an alphabet soup of state agencies that are by now familiar to many eastern Iowa residents held the first of five meetings across the state in Burlington on Wednesday evening. The seminar called “Anatomy of Iowa Floods: Preparing for the Future” featured experts on everything from trends in runoff to water quality issues to state policy proposals.
The last of those subjects caused much of the consternation, as southeast Iowa residents have long feared the proposals would unduly punish the rural corner of the state in the interest of protecting the population centers.
While the question and answer section of the seminar — which lasted the last 30 minutes of a two-hour meeting — was tense, it ended on a positive note, if only slightly.
“We need to have these conversations,” said Lori McDaniel, Iowa Department of Natural Resources water resources section supervisor. “To me, it’s more what’s the risk we’re willing to take and where we fall in that line.”
That led one frustrated resident to conclude the meeting with, “We’d like to invite you back for further conversations.”
Despite frustration with the suggestions, the residents sat quietly and listened for the first hour and a half of the meeting to the information the experts presented.
The panel consisted of people representing the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Iowa DNR, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension, Iowa League of Cities and the Iowa State Association of Counties.
Offering proof that change is possible, one of the panel members was Cedar Falls City Council member Kamyar Enshayan who talked about the ordinances his community passed to better prepare for future flooding.
Though the current state law makes it legal to live in a 100-year floodplain, the city council last December unanimously passed ordinances saying residents had to build outside the 500-year floodplain. He compared the current state laws to allowing people to park on the state’s interstate highways.
“Floodplains have critical functions; it’s not an idle piece of land waiting to be developed. We’ve got to be able to see the floodplain as the floodplain,” Enshayan said. “What is it going to cost? It didn’t cost a penny for the city to pass that ordinance … ordinances don’t cost, they pay.”
Enshayan admitted, though, that there are more issues — and didn’t mention whether the city addressed them — regarding homes already built in the floodplain.
Bryan Bross, a Burlington engineer, expressed the frustration of many that the people downstream would suffer due to the actions to protect Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, acknowledged it’s going to have to be a combination of law changes up and downstream.
“We’re not going to prevent floods … by working in the watershed, that’s water that is going to go somewhere to reduce the amount that goes down the watershed,” said Chuck Corell, DNR water quality bureau chief, adding that there’s going to have to be a combination of moving buildings out of the floodplain and retaining water in the watershed.
Corell also advocated how better watershed planning will also lead to better water quality.
Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center, said the center is working on ways of better tracking the water, including sensors at various bridges along the rivers.
Two presenters showed that there are likely to be more events like 2008 unless there is action, due to increases in rainfall trends and increases in the amount of runoff.
One resident blamed shopping centers and their asphalt parking lots, but Corell said city limits account for about 3 percent of land, whereas corn and bean crops account for about 60 percent.
Hogg laid out some of the legislation that he and other lawmakers tried and failed to bring forth during the last legislative session. While he supported more discussion, Hogg also said action is necessary.
“After that devastation, if the Floods of 2008 don’t get Iowa to make some changes, what’s it going to take,” Hogg asked. “We kind of need that spirit of the sandbag … people kind of want to hope that it won’t happen again, but inevitably, it’s going to flood again.”