As Iowans recover from devastating flooding along the Missouri River, Gov. Kim Reynolds is urging them to consider long-term sustainability. There are urgent short-term needs. But she says the state should work to ensure the same communities don’t flood year after year.
In western Iowa, homes and businesses are still underwater, and families are still displaced. Reynolds says she has been amazed by the fortitude of affected residents.
"The resiliency and the determination and just the resolve to come back and to come back stronger is unbelievable. And I saw that from Hornick all the way down to Hamburg," she said.
Still, in some communities that have flooded multiple times in recent years, Reynolds says there are fears that some residents won’t come back.
“That’s a concern because this is the second and third time that they’ve gone through it and they’re afraid that businesses aren’t going to relocate or some of the community members are going to say, 'I've had enough,'" she said.
Reynolds says communities should approach their recovery efforts from a regional, long-term perspective. She says she has been mobilizing emergency response resources within the state as well as working with the Army Corps of Engineers to analyze levees along the Missouri, and has been in contact with governors of other states affacted by the flooding.
“We need to look at it from…differently, to be innovative on how we’re looking at really putting in place a system that….we don’t want to go back and redo it in eight years. We want to make sure we’re looking at this from a long term perspective,” she said.
Taking a long-term approach could mean communities having difficult conversations about land use in flood-prone areas. University of Iowa hydraulic engineer Larry Weber says that may mean farmers taking at-risk land out of production.
“Are there key, lowland agricultural areas that might be protected by a levee that gives them five year or ten year protection, that's been overtopped four or five times in the last ten years? Might we think about breaching that levee permanently and returning that floodplain farm land back to a functioning flood plain that helps to hold some water back and protects everybody else downstream?" Weber said. "Those are the questions that we need to ask."
The floods have caused $1.6 billion in damage so far. And forecasters are predicting more flooding to come later in the spring.
Witold Krajewski heads the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. He says a wet fall kept soil moisture high. Combined with rainfall during early spring snowmelt, water rolled off the land and streamed into waterways.
"The risk is elevated to say the least," Krajewski said. "The rivers will flow full for a while. So now it depends what comes with the spring storms. So we are not out of the woods."
The governor is urging residents to prepare for potential floods by visiting www.beready.iowa.gov for more information on severe weather risks.