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Prall: The return of floods

BY JACOB PRALL | FEBRUARY 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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My last column was about potential “megadroughts,” how droughts could scorch the entire Midwest. This week, I’m here to deliver more cheery news. A new UI study shows the Midwest has had an increase in large floods over the past five decades.

Large floods are not new to the area. I’m a native of Cedar Rapids, and many of our friends lost their homes and businesses in the 2008 flood. The UI is still recovering; the music program still waits for a new home. Let’s hope we’ll enjoy operettas there soon.

UI graduate student Iman Mallakpour and Assistant Professor Gabriele Villarini conducted the study. They sorted through more than 50 years of daily stream-gauge data from 774 gauges across the Midwest and discovered that 34percent of the gauges experienced increases. For laymen, that translates not to more floods but to more large floods.

The study also found that spring was the most severe flood season, attributing it to snowmelt to the north and April showers. Nine percent of the gauges experienced a decrease, but that number is statistically overshadowed. The area in question for the study is a swath of land from North Dakota, through Iowa, Illinios, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio. 

Though we Iowans don’t have to worry as much about rising sea levels (in an immediate sense), it is interesting that we do still have to view water as a source of disaster. 

Especially since the politicized topic of climate change doesn’t really interfere. These floods are going to happen, they’re going to happen more often, and carbon emissions or no, we’re going to have to deal with them.

I’d rather not see the IMU float down the river, but what can we do about it? This past year saw a lot of summer rain, and many communities in Iowa stockpiled sandbags in anticipation. Luckily, the river didn’t crest the Coralville Reservoir spillway. Another ’08 flood was averted. 

Perhaps in the near future, we’ll see new construction on flood canals and self-closing flood bars. In the coming decades, it may become a necessity for new barriers to be in place. When looking over Iowa’s budget, flood prevention should climb the list of priorities. The damage done to homes and businesses is astounding. The Alliant Energy Tower, the tallest building in Cedar Rapids, had the entirety of its first floor under water. Dilapidated homes still stand in some neighborhoods, where homeowners couldn’t afford to repair the damage and were forced to leave them behind. The Public Library? Gone. Parks and trails? Gone. Cedar Rapids just recently opened its new Public Library, six years after the flood.

It costs a lot more to rebuild then to put preventive systems into place. Ensuring the level of destruction experienced in ’08 does not happen again is important, and the high price of reconstruction reflects on the populace. I don’t know the inner workings of UI finances, but I can only assume if the university didn’t have to build replacement buildings, that money might have been spent elsewhere.

And that’s really what all we can do about it. Wait and prepare. Builder higher walls, lower trenches, anything to keep our river from decimating those along it.


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