Ten years ago, the creation of the Iowa Flood Center marked a milestone in the state’s recovery from severe flooding in 2008.
Iowans and communities walloped by stunning, record-breaking flood events, defying local memory and preparations, were determined to not be blindsided again. They, and state leaders, recognized the need for research-based efforts to reduce the devastation of future flooding. Lawmakers created the Flood Center as a catalyst for preparation and mitigation.
The Flood Center has spent the last decade making considerable progress on both fronts.
Thanks to the Flood Center, Iowa communities now have highly accurate, user-friendly flood maps that can estimate where water will inundate and how much damage may be caused. These invaluable tools are a light year’s leap from 2008, when officials in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere struggled to determine which properties would be affected by the rising Cedar River. In 2016, they helped city leaders meet a new flood threat.
With the help of a large federal grant, the Flood Center also is leading what’s called the “Iowa Watershed Approach,” which is pursuing efforts to address flood factors in nine Iowa watersheds, including the Middle Cedar Watershed north of Cedar Rapids. Hydrological assessments of each watershed help determine what measures are needed to address flooding and water quality concerns. Resulting project plans encourage collaboration between landowners and other groups, agencies and stakeholders.
The results are promising. The goal is to develop projects and programs that can be replicated across the Midwest.
The center’s work is critical as a changing climate feeds more frequent heavy rainfall events across much of the Midwest. Between 1988 and 2016, according to Flood Center research, counties in Iowa were designated as disaster areas due to flooding more than 900 times. Estimated property losses due to flooding during that period topped $13 billion in Iowa, alongside $4 billion in crop losses.
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Flooding in March 2019 led to 58 more disaster declarations. Throughout a spring marked by heavy rainfall, flooding has been a constant threat.
It should go without saying that the state-funded center must receive the financial backing it needs to carry out its important work. But, remarkably, in 2017, a legislative proposal called for eliminating the center’s state funding. In the end, that funding was restored, and the misguided proposal shined a spotlight on the center’s mission and value to Iowa.
Fortunately, the Flood Center’s work continues. Unfortunately, the need for its tools, research and expertise likely will rise in the future, along with Iowa’s swollen rivers.
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