Staff Editorial

Reactive flood measures are failing Iowa

A photo sumbittted by a member fo the public to the Iowa Department of Transporation shows Highway 2 in western Iowa nea
A photo sumbittted by a member fo the public to the Iowa Department of Transporation shows Highway 2 in western Iowa near Interstate 29 under water and badly damaged in June 2019, nearly three months after the Midwest was struck by a "bomb cyclione" storm that led to widesspread flooding (Photo supplied by Iowa Department of Transporation)

The first bill passed by the Iowa Senate this year includes $20 million for flood relief as parts of western and Eastern Iowa continue picking up the pieces from severe flooding in 2019.

Democrats argued it’s not enough. Republicans insisted they would consider more flood funding later. In this debate, both sides are right.

There are tens of millions of dollars in unmet recovery needs. And the state will be spending more, potentially a lot more if 2020 sees more major flooding.

The Quad Cities National Weather Service’s first 2020 flood forecast released Thursday warns of a heightened risk of Mississippi River flooding, although it’s too soon to forecast severity. Additional snowfall, rapid snowmelt and heavy spring rains could boost flood risks on many regional rivers.

Living under the threat of catastrophic flooding is hardly uncommon in Iowa. Weather data shows we’re living in a state that’s seeing more rainfall overall compared to decades ago and more heavy rainstorms that trigger flooding. A so-called 100-year flood is now four times more likely in Iowa, according to climate experts. We know a changing climate is the culprit, but regardless of the cause, it’s happening.

With some exceptions, the state’s approach to flooding is more reactive than proactive. Money for flood mitigation was provided several years ago to Cedar Rapids and other communities, and has played a critical role. But mostly, the state sends in bucks after disasters occur.

Response is important. But the state should be far more aggressive on efforts to head off flood damage before it occurs. We’ve learned the hard way over the years that the federal government can be an unreliable, slow-to-act partner. So we’re better off looking for Iowa solutions.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed raising the sales tax to fill the Natural Recreation and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, cut income taxes and fund local mental health programs. It’s true many of the water quality projects paid for by the trust fund will include flood mitigating runoff control, but we think the sales tax could have an even bigger impact.

What if, instead of handing out another income tax cut, the state used that portion of the penny to create a natural disaster mitigation and response fund, providing a permanent pool of dollars that would help communities prepare for the worst? And when disasters strike, lawmakers wouldn’t have to sift through the budget to create a patchwork response.

We can scatter the benefits of another election year tax cut or we can make critical investments in protecting our communities from disaster. Protecting Iowans should be a high priority. And which would have a bigger economic impact, an income-tax cut or investments in shielding communities that drive the state’s economy from costly damage and risks that discourage new investments?

Given the lack of national leadership in addressing climate change, our resiliency in the face of new threats could depend on state leadership. The threat is real. It’s time for our Legislature and governor to meet it.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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