Autumn Begins with a Flood

Flooded Wetland

Flooded Wetland

There was a lot to make one cranky as summer ended yesterday, including the weather.

Extremely heavy rains are flooding parts of Iowa and the impact will soon be felt downstream.

The Cedar River is expected to crest at 24.1 feet next week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the highest level after the record 31.12 foot crest on June 13, 2008.

“We have four days to get ready, and now is the time to start,” Mayor Ron Corbett said Thursday.

We’ve had a lot more time than that to get ready.

During Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training, conducted in Cedar Rapids in May 2015, Mayor Corbett made a presentation about the 2008 Cedar River flooding, how it impacted Cedar Rapids, and what actions were taken and being considered to mitigate damage from potential future floods. The next week will determine whether the plans and discussions were enough to prevent serious damage.

Senator Joni Ernst has been pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite completion of the Cedar Rapids Flood Control Project, recently in the Water Resources Development Act.

“This legislation includes my work to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the completion of the Cedar Rapids flood control project,” Ernst wrote in a Sept. 15 press release. “The provision emphasizes to the Army Corps of Engineers that Congress wants this project to remain a priority. I will continue working to ensure the Army Corps of Engineers understands the great need for this long-standing project to be completed in a timely and efficient manner.”

These efforts seem well intentioned, but too little, too late.

The connection between this flood and global warming is clear. When the atmosphere is warmer, its capacity to store water vapor increases. When it does rain, it can do so in heavy precipitation events in which a large amount of rain falls in a brief amount of time. The frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events has increased since World War II and that appears to be what happened in northeastern Iowa over the last few days.

Here’s an excerpt from a WHO-TV news article about flash flooding in Butler County. It tells the story:

BUTLER COUNTY, Iowa — Storms in northern and northeastern Iowa overnight caused some damage as they spawned tornadoes and dropped heavy rain – up to 10 inches – in some areas.

“We expect the crest this evening what we’re being told around 7 p.m. probably water levels similar to 2008 or more so,” said Jason Johnson, Butler County Sheriff.

Flooding from the Shell Rock River has cancelled classes in the North Butler School District for Thursday and many students gathered at the high school to help fill sandbags. Highway 14 on the way to Charles City is impassable because of water over the road.

Butler County Sheriff  Johnson says there isn’t a widespread evacuation in Greene but some residents are moving to higher ground.

In Floyd County, 7.55” of rain was reported and Charles City saw 6.35”. The Little Cedar River is at moderate flood stage at Nashua and near Ionia. The rainfall total reported for Ionia is 6.24″.

Work will remedy the crankiness of summer’s end. One didn’t expect it to be sand bagging levies, homes and businesses to prevent damage from what is projected to be the second worst flood in Cedar Rapids history. It will get us through the weekend.

The newest flood begs the question of what’s next to mitigate the damage from future flooding? Government involvement in a solution is necessary but it must be implemented faster than it has been. We also have to connect the dots between our personal actions, global warming and climate change more than we have.

For now, we’ll just have to deal with the existential reality of the flood, something I recall doing since the 1960s. It’s a way of sustaining our lives in a turbulent world, but we can do better.

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