I vividly remember the evening of June 12, 2008. I had turned nine about three weeks earlier and I was on top of the world. It was cloudy and an eerie orange glow reflected off the clouds around the Lowe’s parking lot on theNortheast side of Cedar Rapids. We had been picking up tools to fix the sump pump in our basement, and either myself or one of my siblings asked my dad “So, what’s going on with the river?” (or something like that, I don’t have THAT great of a memory). Without hesitation we drove toward I-380 and got on heading south, toward downtown. When we got over the Cedar River, I looked to my left and saw my city. The only city I’d grown up in. The riverside park I was playing in just two days before was under water. About a month later, we drove through the flood zone just to get a grasp on the reality that our fellow Cedar Rapidians were facing. Destruction, heartbreak, and sorrow. Although nobody died in the flood of 2008, lives were destroyed. This wasn’t supposed to happen again.
Yet, not even 10 years later, the city of Cedar Rapids was facing that reality once again. As I wrote this article, the Cedar River was nearing its second highest crest in history, 22 feet. But, here’s the thing — we got lucky. Originally the river was going to crest at 25.3 feet We were told to prepare for 28. What if the forecasters at the National Weather Service had been wrong? What if there had been a torrential downpour in Cedar Rapids (saturating the soil, giving the water nothing to soak into) in the hours before the surge came down river? What if there was a freak rainstorm over the Cedar Valley on Saturday or Sunday? Thankfully, none of these “what ifs” happened. Even though the hours I spent sandbagging didn’t end up holding back any water, I’m glad I did it. I would do it again, because I’ve seen the destruction this river can do.
Eight years ago, we were told we would get flood protection. We were lied to. In the years since then, private companies along the Cedar River have constructed their own flood protection. The city? Instead of spending money on flood walls and levees downtown, we spent millions on a new library, a new hotel, a new convention center, a new indoor farmers market, new flower pots downtown. All of this was in the name of flood recovery. They say that the problem is federal agencies not releasing funds for the project. There’s truth in that, but it begs the question: Why couldn’t we have taken the millions we spent on the new stuff, and put it toward flood prevention systems instead?
It’s time for the government to step up. If it has happened twice in a decade, it’s probably going to happen again. Don’t pat yourself on the back for running around like chickens with your heads cut off throwing up HESCO barriers left and right. If we had the flood protection we were promised, we wouldn’t have had to do that. If we had the flood protection we were promised and we had raised the main road on the west side of the city, I would be in school right now. For once, I agree with Donald Trump — It’s time to build the wall.
• Jefferson Daubitz is a senior at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter: @jldaubitz