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Iowa legislators should act quickly to safeguard against future floods

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa legislators appear to have a short memory.

Nearly two years after the devastating floods, the Legislature is on the verge of adjourning without passing any major legislation to prevent, educate, and protect Iowans from suffering in future floods.

This lack of legislation is troubling and sets the stage for potentially disastrous outcomes as the approaching flood season and rising river levels threaten a repeat performance of the 2008 flooding.

Some legislation has passed — bills allocating funding for state-sponsored floodplain mapping and the creation of the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, for example.

But even the most rational pieces of legislation, such as requiring “critical” infrastructure — such as hospitals —in the so-called 500-year floodplain to have beefed-up flood protection, have yet to pass.

Bill Ehm, the co-chairman of the Water Resource Coordination Committee — a group that presented the Iowa Legislature with 16 policy recommendations and nine funding options in November 2009 — said that on a statewide level, we are no less susceptible to flood damage than we were in 2008.

“We haven’t changed a thing,” he said, speaking of policy and infrastructure changes. Ehm held up Cedar Falls as a local community that has taken it upon itself to pass legislation limiting development in flood-prone regions. “It’s a local community saying, ‘We’ve have enough,’ ” he said. But this is only one city, and the larger state-issued legislation has yet to materialize.

There are some concerns with the Water Resource Coordination Committee’s suggestion for regulating and limiting development in areas that have flooded in the past. This legislation could place restrictions on land use or mandate costly building requirements on future developers.

In order to prevent future flooding-related hardship, however, lawmakers must move past these shortsighted objections. The Iowa Legislature seems to be still reeling from the destruction of 2008 and reluctant to move forward.

Mother Nature, of course, is not.

As the Legislature prepares to adjourn, Des Moines has seen major road closures because of high water levels and early flooding from melting snow. And in Iowa City, the chance of flooding is “above normal” for this spring, according to an e-mail sent out this week from University Housing Director Von Stange. Even without the record-high water levels seen in 2008, any flood damage at this point is sure to be especially damaging as communities continue to rebuild.

In reality, the reaction should have come more quickly than a last-minute plea to legislators almost two years later. Perhaps more should have been done after the destruction of the 1993 floodwaters.

Unfortunately, recounting what should have happened will solve nothing. Now is the time for action.

Any further delay on the part of the Legislature would be borderline reckless given the looming likelihood of a future flood and the historically devastating effects.

“Rivers have memories,” Ehm told the Editorial Board. “If it flooded before, it’s going to flood again.”

That is exactly why we urge lawmakers to take action immediately. As a state, we must move forward and act diligently to guard against future flooding.


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