Government

Climate change effect on Cedar River Basin spelled out in Trump administration report

More frequent flooding, crop damage expected, report says

The Cedar River is shown at major flood stage at sunrise in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Cedar River is shown at major flood stage at sunrise in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Climate change is predicted to worsen environmental conditions in the Cedar River Basin and take an increasing financial toll on farmers and other citizens in the decades ahead, according to a federal report released last month.

Warmer temperatures, more precipitation and higher humidity are expected to increase the occurrence and intensity of disease and fungus outbreaks in crops, according to the Trump administration’ Fourth National Climate Assessment. Transitions between extreme flood and drought are expected to increase nitrogen levels in rivers and lead to harmful algal blooms, the report released on Nov. 23 stated.

“Time is running out,” said Jerald L. Schnoor, University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering. “That’s what these reports are about. Climate change is here and it is going to get worse.”

The report warns the affects of climate change are being felt throughout the country, and the situation is becoming more dire, which could threaten the way of life for Americans. President Donald Trump cast doubt on the findings suggesting he doesn’t see the negative impacts or believe the report shows man is at fault.

While hurricanes and wildfires have captured the national spotlight recently, the report highlights affects of climate change being felt in other ways throughout the nation.

The Cedar River Basin was discussed in Chapter 21, which focused on the Midwest.

What was a “100-year flood” last century — a flood level that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in a given year — is projected this century to be a 25-year flood, which has a 4 percent chance of occurring in a given year, according to the report.

A variety of factors, such as insect infestations, soil erosion and heat stress, are expected to cause declines in corn yields — 5 to 25 percent — and soybeans — 25 percent — by midcentury.

Schnoor said the Cedar River Basin was likely included because it represents such a vast area, covering much of Eastern Iowa including Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, and because negative effects are being felt up and down the basin. The Cedar River enters Iowa in the north central part of the state in Mitchell County, flows into the Iowa River in Columbus Junction and dumps into the Mississippi River south of Muscatine.

Schnoor cautions that the report is based on models and come with a degree of uncertainty but said it makes clear that action must be taken to mitigate contributions to climate change, including reducing emissions from fossil fuels.

Cedar Rapids has firsthand experience with increased frequency and severity of flooding, having the two worst flooding episodes in the city’s history in the past 10 years. Federal authorities estimate the 2008 flood caused $5.4 billion damages and economic loss. City officials estimate the 2016 flood cost $10 million, and three floods in fall 2018 cost nearly $1 million.

Local taxpayers could see property tax increases of 22 cents per year for 10 years — potentially a $2.20 increase after 10 years — to cover $264 million of a $750 million, flood control infrastructure project that will take 20 years to complete. Taxpayers also are chipping in at the state and federal level.

Climate change is also considered responsible for increasing “scour damage” to bridges, where sediment is washed away from under and around a bridge’s footings eventually leading to its failure. It could cost $400 million to maintain the current level of service on Midwestern bridges by the year 2050, according to the report.

“We as scientists need to be preparing society to cope with this,” said Eugene Takle, director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University, who helped author Chapter 21 of the report. “Worst-case scenarios in a previous world are not worst-case anymore. We have a responsibility to society to explain what these can be like so we can envision how we might realign our land management practices so we have a more resilient landscape for these types of events.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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