Overton: Flood recovery too slow

BY JON OVERTON | JUNE 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Mother Nature ain’t screwin’ around no more. Climate change is here. Time to adapt.

While Iowa City managed to weather the most recent flooding fairly well thanks to flood barriers and other preparations, the University of Iowa still hasn’t recovered from the 2008 flood, and several of Iowa City’s proposed flood-prevention projects have died.

It’s not a stretch to say that the so-called “debate” over climate change is over and has been for some time. Need I point out that 97 percent of climatologists say climate change is happening and manmade? Or that we’re breaking records left and right?

The impact isn’t cheap.

The Iowa Flood Center stated in a report that the Floods of 2008 caused between $8 billion and $10 billion in damages across the state. Obviously, no single event can be directly linked to climate change, but this is just a taste of the level of damage climate change is probably going to inflict. Yet that hasn’t prevented some projects from floundering.

With the recovering economy, the only the direction costs will go is up. Odds are that the cost of construction materials will continue to grow and (assuming borrowing money would be involved) interest rates will rise. It seems that it would have cost less in the long term to have started building the levee by now.

Just because a flood may be called a 500-year flood doesn’t mean Iowa City won’t see another flood like the one in 2008 until 2508 (when we finally get those flying cars we’ve been promised for so long). It means that — on average — a similar scale flood will occur every 500 years.

When climate change is factored into the mix, the odds look much worse. If it means spending more money now to protect ourselves, fine. Do it. In lieu of a crystal ball, this is necessary for the sake of self-preservation. We’re paying now for what we failed to do before. It’s obvious that Hancher and several other low-lying buildings were sitting ducks just waiting to get swamped.

To the UI’s credit, it has actually begun preliminary construction for the new Hancher, put plans in place to renovate the IMU, and build a new music facility. But what about the Museum of Art?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied requests to pay for a new building that wouldn’t be in the floodplain because the building didn’t suffer damages of 50 percent or more.

But hey, it’s all good. The UI is now making plans to build a new museum without FEMA.

Making plans. Five years after the flood, and we’re still just making plans. And, of course, it’s the students who suffer for it: those who are the least culpable for this embarrassing mess.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but what’s truly bothersome is that many people in positions of power either don’t understand the severity of the situation or can’t get the job done as quickly as it needs to be. We don’t need panic. By all means, staying calm is the best option.

But this painfully slow recovery courtesy of FEMA and the Iowa City government’s shortsightedness in preparing for future flooding is worrisome at best and disturbing at worst.

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