Shaping the future

By The Gazette Editorial Board



Five years out from our historic 2008 flood, many Eastern Iowans aren’t inclined to dredge up bad memories. They may have tired of the media coverage and follow-ups that unfolded day after day, month after month over the last five years. We can understand that.

But we also know that the upcoming five-year anniversary should be more than a formal milestone. It’s a valuable review point to measure what lessons we’ve learned and applied so far, as well as celebrate so much that has been accomplished during recovery. Most important, it’s a valid time to decide where Iowa’s public policy and practices need to go in the next five years and beyond, and how best to get there.

With that in mind, we invite your attention to an upcoming event. On May 31, a lineup of scientists, farmers, environmental experts, flood specialists and political leaders will convene in Cedar Rapids. This event, dubbed “Five Years Out: Ongoing Impacts and Challenges of the 2008 Floods,” has the potential to help shape future public policy that deals with climate change, watershed management and related environmental issues. It’s organized by the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center.

Haven’t we, some of you may say, “been there, done this” already?

Yes, to some extent, regionally and at the state level. And certainly, Iowa has made some progress on the specific problems we face — especially, how to reduce the level of flooding and soil erosion in a state with intensive agriculture operations and a high percent of all land developed and contributing to runoff.


But we have much farther to go before our waterways — over half of which are rated impaired by state environmental officials — are sufficiently clean of pollution and less prone to major flooding.

The challenge involves the reality that 98 percent of Iowa’s 36 million acres have been developed for agricultural use, cities and roads; about 60 percent of the state is covered by row crops.

Iowa’s rich soil has been the basis for tremendously productive farms and farmers, as well as an anchor for our economy. Yet despite advances in soil conservation methods and their expanded use, Iowa still loses an average of five tons of precious topsoil per acre each year, more than double that rate in some areas. Runoff from farm fields and urban areas still increases the flood potential in Iowa’s many watersheds — including the Cedar River, which alone drains about 10 percent of the state’s total acreage.

With leadership from state Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids and others, the state has expanded watershed and conservation measures in the past five years. The Iowa Flood Center — the nation’s first academic center devoted to the study of floods — was established at the University of Iowa. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s request, has created a new long-term strategy to reduce runoff and water pollution.

Now we hope the symposium on May 31 adds serious momentum to the post-flood discussion, research and public action.


Which brings us to another project. Ours. We’re calling it “Living With The River.” It’s still in the early stages but we’re looking, among other things, to measure Eastern Iowans’ knowledge of floods and watersheds and related matters, and create a storehouse of information and informed perspectives about those issues that is regularly updated and accessible to all.

The May 31 symposium’s lineup offers a wealth of sources, and we want to help pique public interest and participation in that event. So, other than this editorial and the adjacent information about the event, we also will be offering other material leading up to the event. Several of the speakers/presenters have agreed to write guest columns or do interviews for audio podcast play on our website. They will talk about their area of expertise and their perspective on where public policy should go.

We’ll launch those starting later this week. Look for them on Insight pages in The Gazette and Insights on Iowa podcast on

Together, let’s get smarter about floods and our environment.

Comments: or (319) 398-8262


Flood Symposium & Exhibit

l What: “Five Years Out: Ongoing Impacts & Challenges of the 2008 Floods”

l Where: National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids

l When: May 31, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

l Cost: $35 general, $15 for students


l Generate productive discussions among local leaders, policy makers, residents and scholars.

l Begin to bridge the gap between rural and urban approaches to water management.

l Identify water management policies that remain unresolved and explore how they might reach resolution.

Related event

May 30, 7-9 p.m., Legion Arts (CSPS Hall), Cedar Rapids; “Trouble the Water,” a groundbreaking exhibit in which a dozen contemporary artists explore water issues related to droughts and floods, climate events and climate change, and the economics, distribution, uses and scarcity. Free and open to the public


University of Iowa Public Policy Center (Forkenbrock Series), IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, Iowa Flood Center, Legion Arts


Symposium lineup

8:30 a.m. — Welcome: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, Peter Damiano, Director, University of Iowa Public Policy Center.

8:45 a.m. — Overview of Cedar Rapids recovery: City Manager Jeff Pomeranz

9:15 a.m. — Iowa’s Changing Climate and Water Runoff: Richard Cruse, Iowa State University, professor of agronomy and director of the Iowa Water Center; William Gutowski Jr., professor of meteorology, ISU; Sally Scott, assistant research scientist, Housing and Land Use Policy, University of Iowa.

10:10 a.m. — Post-Flood Watershed Challenges and Opportunities: Bill Ehm, Environmental Protection Division Administrator, Iowa DNR; Julie Tallman, development regulation specialist, Iowa City Public Works Department; Larry Weber, director of IIHR — Hydroscience and Engineering, parent organization of the Iowa Flood Center, and UI professor of civil and environmental engineering; Eric Tate, UI assistant professor of geography.

11:10 a.m. — Innovative Responses at the Local Level: Kamyar Enshayan, director, Center for Energy and Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa; Dick Sloan, Rowley farmer; Joe O’Hern, director, Cedar Rapids Flood Recovery and Reinvestment; Scott.

12:30 p.m. — Disaster Resilience: A Local to National Imperative: Susan Cutter, director, Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, University of North Carolina.

1:40 p.m. — Water Management Policy Moving Forward: Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture; Roger Wolf, director, Environmental Services, Iowa Soybean Association; Ralph Rosenberg, executive director, Iowa Environmental Council; Jim Schwab, manager, Hazards Planning Research Center, American Planning Association; state Sen. Rob Hogg, Flood Mitigation Board; Larry Weber.

3:20 p.m. — Suggested next steps: Jerry Anthony, UI associate professor graduate program in Urban and Regional Planning.


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