Editorial: Impact of floods demands proactive action


Stadium View Apartments parking lot floods after the increase in temperature March 14. The increase caused the snow to melt and the South Skunk River to overflow.

Editorial Board

Over spring break, the Midwest was hit with some of the worst flooding it has seen in decades. While western Iowa was hit hard, southwest Iowa experienced the worst of the flood waters. Many communities along the Missouri River are now underwater and residents have no knowledge of when they might be able to return.

Gavins Point Dam, located on the Missouri River along the South Dakota-Nebraska border, has been and will continue to let large amounts of water through in order to alleviate flooding in northern Nebraska. This means that the Missouri River will continue to run high for the foreseeable future.

Towns along the Missouri face a long summer as snowpack in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota continues to melt, forcing the dams along the Missouri to continue with high release rates.

Agriculture plays a big part in Iowa’s economy, and it is precisely that industry that is hit hardest by the flooding. Fields covered in water, or even just extremely saturated, prevent farmers from planting their crop. Raging waters can carry livestock away or trap them, preventing them from eating or drinking.

Many Iowa State students are from areas impacted by flooding or have family and friends from those areas. Homes and property have been damaged by the flooding. Basements have been filled with water, and people have been forced to evacuate.

There is hope. Residents of several Iowa counties are able to apply for federal disaster aid in addition to the money the federal government will contribute to local efforts across the state. State aid is also available to those who apply in addition to state funding of local recovery programs.

This last round of flooding was unique in that most of the saturated snowpack melted quickly despite the ground remaining frozen. The resulting runoff when paired with ice jams was too much for creeks and rivers to handle.

Flooding has and will always be a problem in the Midwest. Our waterways are tasked with draining enormous swaths of land. And while floods were a problem before settlers arrived in the Midwest, we haven’t done much, if anything, to help alleviate the problem since our arrival.

Areas along rivers used to be wetlands. When the river flooded, nothing was harmed. Floodplains have since been developed into farmland and even residential and commercial property. Now when the river floods, livelihoods are affected.

We’ve attempted to protect ourselves from flooding by constructing levees and dams. Our attempts at controlling water have been largely successful. That is, until conditions align and we experience the kind of flooding that is currently inundating the Midwest.

While levees may protect one town, they increase water levels in a river and force the town downstream to handle a larger volume than they otherwise would. Dams, as mentioned before, do a great job at controlling water flow. But in exchange for helping drain one area of the country, another area must cope with the consequence of the river running higher than usual.

A changing climate coupled with our attempts to prevent local flooding are going to magnify the disasters resulting from future flooding events. Homes and property in the floodplain are going to face increased risk. Add this to the fact that many people don’t purchase flood insurance, and the Midwest is going to face questions of how to deal with flooding financially.

The best answer is to address flooding concerns now through proactive management of the land. Though a large financial commitment, states should consider redesigning their levees, dams and reservoirs to better prevent valuable property from being destroyed by flooding.

Inaction will not only allow flooding to continue to wreak havoc, but could also compound an already serious issue.