By Sen. Rob Hogg
Cedar Rapids could survive, muddle through, recover from, or even thrive after a single multi-billion-dollar disaster like the Flood of 2008. But a second such disaster would lead to the irreversible loss of wealth, population, and economic activity from our community.
As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me.
So what have we accomplished?
In 2009, the Iowa Legislature established the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa to provide high-quality, accessible flood information with improved mapping, interactive web-based tools, and analysis of the effectiveness of flood mitigation measures. The Iowa Flood Center has continued to receive strong bipartisan support in the years since its creation.
We also required cities with identifiable flood hazards to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program and restored funding for the Department of Natural Resources flood plain program. We developed standards for community tornado-safe rooms and storm shelters.
In 2010, the Iowa Legislature established “smart planning” principles including hazard mitigation for cities and counties to use, and authorized regional “watershed management authorities” such as those authorities now at work in the Upper Cedar and Indian Creek in Linn County.
We also passed a $30 million Disaster Mitigation Fund as part of I-JOBS to provide financial assistance to communities across our state to prevent or mitigate future disaster damage. That program helped 21 communities implement critical disaster safety projects.
These projects include the relocation of the Cedar Rapids Fire Station, part of the new flood protection system along Biscuit Creek and Clear Creek in Coralville, the restoration of Lower Bee Branch Creek in Dubuque, and construction of dry detention ponds for water storage in Hudson.
Other projects rebuilt or being rebuilt through other state disaster recovery programs are also now protected against future flood damage, including Linn County’s Jean Oxley Public Service Center, the Cedar Rapids Public Library, the Linn County Community Services Building, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, and the Human Service Campus Building, which serves non-profits that were displaced by the flood.
Projects in other communities, such as the new fire station in Elkader and Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, are also being rebuilt out of harm’s way.
In 2012, the Iowa Legislature continued to support hazard mitigation by passing the Flood Mitigation Board, which has the potential to assist communities with flood prevention infrastructure projects. This year, the Legislature elevated our homeland security and emergency management program to a new state agency, which hopefully will result in more pre-disaster hazard mitigation by state government.
Still, it would be foolish to think we have done enough.
For example, it is not enough to make a program available for potential flood infrastructure; we need to actually implement more flood infrastructure projects. Likewise, the state disaster mitigation fund that we created in 2010 met only a small fraction of the need that communities had at that time for disaster mitigation infrastructure.
In Cedar Rapids, voters have twice narrowly rejected local-option sales tax referendums that would have provided necessary local matching funds for our flood-protection system.
We also need comprehensive watershed management on a much larger scale than has even been attempted in our state. Unfortunately, state funding for watershed management has actually been reduced. With additional resources, we can have watershed coordinators in every sub-watershed and matching funds for wetland restoration, vegetated buffer strips, and detention basins to reduce peak floods and clean our water.
Some people see the challenge as a choice between flood protection and watershed management. I disagree. We need to do both if we want to say “never again” to the level of flood damage that devastated our state in 2008.
Rob Hogg is a state senator representing Senate District 33 in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
l What: “Five years out: Ongoing impacts and challenges of the 2008 floods”
l When: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., May 31
l Where: National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids
l Get Involved: The public is encouraged to attend. More information at http://ppc.uiowa.edu/forkenbrock/five-years-out. Registration at http://thegaz.us/11l Related event: “Trouble the Water” art exhibit and reception, CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, 7-9 p.m., May 30 (no registration required)