After The Latest Iowa Flood

Cedar River at Iowa Highway One on Sept. 27, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.

Cedar River at Iowa Highway One on Sept. 27, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.

The Cedar River crested in Cedar Rapids at 21.91 feet at 11 a.m. yesterday.

As the river recedes over the next few days the temporary flood wall and earthen berms built over the weekend will be monitored for breaches.

They held during the crest, protecting people and property from damage. Here’s a link to a news story about the flood.

State Senator Rob Hogg announced a “Flood Relief, Recovery and Resilience Tour” of Cedar Falls, Waverly, Clarksville, Shell Rock, Charles City, Vinton and Palo today and tomorrow. Hogg hopes to learn about the damage done, what kind of help people need, what worked and what didn’t work, and how we can do more together to reduce future flood damage, including better flood mitigation infrastructure and better watershed and floodplain management according to the event page on Facebook.

The City of Cedar Rapids knew what to do when flooding was predicted after heavy precipitation events upstream. Over the weekend officials executed a plan to build a temporary flood wall, evacuated low-lying areas and ramped up emergency services to prevent large-scale damage to homes, property and people living in Iowa’s second largest city. News media stories focused on the human drama of reaction to the impending flood. There has been little coverage of the causes of the heavy precipitation events that produced rain that caused the flooding in northeastern Iowa.

“Iowa is already experiencing the effects of climate change,” according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. This includes “increased frequency of precipitation extremes that lead to flooding.”

Flooded Farm Near the Cedar River, Sept. 27, 2016

Flooded Farm Near the Cedar River, Sept. 27, 2016

Because this is the second major flood in Cedar Rapids since 2008, solutions to protecting people and assets going forward have been discussed and are clear.

Senator Hogg outlined three essential strategies: get Congress to help fund permanent flood protection that has already received state and local funding; better upstream watershed and floodplain management to reduce peak flooding; and action on climate change to stop extreme precipitation events from getting worse.

U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers “demanding answers on why they have neglected to complete flood mitigation projects in the Cedar Rapids region and have put the public’s safety at risk.”

They wrote:

With all due respect, it is no longer sufficient to say that your hands are tied and that nothing short of a congressional earmark can help communities like Cedar Rapids that have lower property values. You have some discretion to help and have simply made the decision to forego the assistance even though the community endured a 500-year flood event in 2008, worked with the Corps to develop a project to address that flood risk, and worked with Congress to get it authorized. Due to your refusal to budget for this project, Cedar Rapids is now facing another major flood event without the needed levee improvements.

Hidden in this tough language is a bitter irony. Congress won’t appropriate money for the project, yet the senators expect the Corps of Engineers to find it somewhere else in their budget. This is what austerity policies look like and they are not good for the people of Cedar Rapids and other flood impacted areas.

While Iowans impacted by flooding are concerned, in the upper atmosphere carbon dioxide levels maintained a level above 400 part per million according to monitors in Hawaii. Atmospheric carbon dioxide level is a key contributor to global warming which increases the intensity of precipitation events that have led to Iowa flooding.

“September is usually the month when carbon dioxide is at its lowest after a summer of plants growing and sucking it up in the northern hemisphere,” Brian Kahn wrote in an article on Climate Central. “As fall wears on, those plants lose their leaves, which in turn decompose, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. At Mauna Loa Observatory, the world’s marquee site for monitoring carbon dioxide, there are signs that the process has begun but levels have remained above 400 ppm.”

Why is 400 ppm important? The lower limit of the safe operating zone boundary for carbon dioxide on Earth is 350 ppm. We passed that level in 1986.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment Report notes that, “continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

That means more flooding in Iowa similar to this week’s event. While politicians like Senator Hogg are well-attuned to the urgency of this climate crisis, too many politicians and public officials are dismissive of climate change.

Governmental action to mitigate the effects of climate change is needed. If our current crop of politicians isn’t willing to take action, we should replace them with people who will.

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