Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gazette's Flood Plan, Floodplains & Greenbelts

June 21, 2008, 7:45 a.m., 12:40 p.m.

Gazette Increases Volume of Chorus

This morning, June 21, The Gazette adds its powerful editorial voice to the growing chorus of support for flood prevention methods that work with, rather than against, Mother Nature. See blog entries, comments, quotes and links in, Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts, Greenways and Flood Prevention," June 16, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Floods and Football," June 17, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Flooding, Greenbelts & Catching Up With State29," June 18, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts and Floodplains," June 20, 2008.

While Iowa’s catastrophic flooding has been widely blamed on the deluge that fell from the sky, hydrologists, conservationists and government officials told the Washington Post this week they believe man is to blame, too, possibly even more than Mother Nature.

From farm drainage tiling, to parking lots that smother once permeable pasture or wetlands, no one denies that man’s development activities have changed the pace of storm water runoff, sending it shooting toward waterways instead of slowly meandering as nature intended it to, into the ground.

The bottom line: Mother Nature’s wet wrath is something largely out of our control. But our landscape is ours to shape.

Our lessons should have been learned in 1993. But we’re wiser now, a nation that is getting more comfortable with living “green.” So from this flood forward, we can and should be better stewards of our land, doing everything within our control to mitigate the chance of future catastrophic flooding. In the coming months, officials from the national level to the local need to take objective looks at just how much humans played a role in intensifying the floods so that we can know best where to make changes in policies and educate the public about ways to they can help. . . .

Within urban areas, the storm water runoff practices of both residential and commercial development should be looked at from the perspective of a flood-devastated community . . ..

With flood-recovery estimates now in the multi-billions, ponder the financial burden of such shortsightedness. Our river has no more patience for it.
Editorial, "Our Role in Lessening Nature's Wrath," The Gazette, June 21, 2008, p. A6.

The Press-Citizen, which has run a number of op ed columns endorsing Mother Nature's Flood Control Plan (see links at the top of this entry), has yet to clearly editorialize in support of such an approach. Although its editorial this morning was at least consistent with it:

Other residents now recognize how the [Normandy Drive] neighborhood has been in a state of danger for decades -- ever since it was built within the floodplain.

That's one of the reasons why some of the Normandy Drive residents themselves may be asking the city to buy out such endangered residential areas. And that's why the city -- especially if FEMA funds are made available -- should give that offer serious consideration.
Editorial, "Residents Had Enough Warning for Evacuation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 21, 2008, p. A18.

It also ran an additional op ed supporting a much more direct analysis and proposal regarding such things as Greenbelts and wetlands:

Iowa is experiencing flooding yet again and Iowans will be taking actions to reduce and mitigate flooding in the future. Among those options should be the reconstruction of wetlands and -- when cellulosic biofuel production becomes feasible -- the conversion of croplands to certain energy crops that help reduce flooding. . . .

Farmers have lined up to enter land into voluntary wetland creation programs but most are turned away because of a lack of funding. These wetlands benefit society by providing wildlife habitat, cleaning the water and helping to control floods. One acre of wetland can prevent between 1 million and 1.5 million gallons of water from entering a flooded waterway by acting like a sponge. . . .

[O]ne acre of wetland can also filter out most of the nitrogen and sediment from up to 100 acres of adjacent cropland. When the water is slowly released it is far cleaner. . . .

[F]undamental changes in cropping patterns enabled by cellulosic biofuel production, if carefully implemented, could dramatically reduce Iowa's flooding. . . .

Growing prairie would dramatically reduce Iowa's flooding and soil erosion problem. Prairies, like wetlands, reduce flooding because they soak up tremendous amounts of water and release it slowly. Under matching soil types, slopes, saturation and weather conditions, a prairie will retain a far greater portion of rain than a corn or bean field. Prairie protects the land and water far better than conventional corn or soybeans.

Cleaner, more stable streams benefit society in other ways as well. With prairie, streams that dry up and die in the dry season are more likely to continue flowing. More desirable game fish would repopulate Iowa's steams and migratory waterfowl could head north out of Iowa healthy rather than malnourished, and our waterways would be more pleasant and safer for recreation.

Flooding is a problem of small impacts spread over many acres. Solutions therefore can come in the form of many small changes spread over many acres. Shifting a significant number of acres of corn and beans to prairie energy crops would dramatically reduce the amount of floodwater flowing off our fields. . . .
Andrew Hug, "Reducing Iowa's Recurrent Floods," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 21, 2008, p. A18.

State29 has a couple more blog entries well worth reading, State29, "Rebuilding It As Greenspace," June 20, 2008, and State29, "The 500 Year Flood Plain Myth + Stupid Spending," June 21, 2008 (with a sensible and serious proposal for where the new federal building in Cedar Rapids should be located).

John Barleykorn commented on yesterday's blog entry, "I think that many of us are looking at issues like storm water runoff and conservation design. We have to re-think conventional curb and gutter urban design standards." He goes on to mention and link to an intriguing commercial firm that I intend to check out.

And for those who consider themselves friends of or stakeholders in the University -- or would just like to help out -- here's a word from UI President Sally Mason that speaks for itself and requires no commentary from me:

To University of Iowa Alumni, Friends, Contributors, and Hawkeye Fans across the world:

Your University is facing what may be the greatest challenge in its 160-year history.

Many people have contacted us asking us how they can help, and in response we're offering a way to do so from wherever you may be.

Unprecedented flooding throughout Eastern Iowa has already impacted our entire arts campus and much more -- including beloved landmarks such as the Iowa Memorial Union, the UI Museum of Art, our music and theatre buildings, and Hancher Auditorium.

Although it appears the flooding on campus has crested, the high water will still inflict significant damage to the more than 16 UI buildings that took on water. The Iowa River is slowly receding, but it will take months and years for the campus to fully recover.

You can help by making a gift online today to the UI Flood Relief Fund. Please go online to to lend your support. Gifts of all sizes are needed and appreciated, and our first priority is to assist UI students and employees who have been displaced from their homes by the flooding. After addressing these most immediate human concerns, we will use contributions to the fund (as available) at my discretion to address other areas of flood-related need throughout the campus.

I encourage the UI community and Iowans generally to help –- whether through volunteering or other sharing of resources –- as they can with the relief efforts for those parts of the state most affected by the flooding. A good place to start in assisting our friends in Johnson and Linn Counties is by visiting

The University of Iowa community has always been far larger than our physical campus, and the Hawkeye spirit has overcome many challenges in the past. I am confident this University will emerge stronger than ever before. UI students, faculty, staff, and community members showed tremendous teamwork and resolve in last week's massive sandbagging efforts. If you'd like to join them in helping us rise above this crisis, please visit

Our heartfelt thanks for all of your encouragement, and for your ongoing generosity.

Sally Mason
The University of Iowa

P.S. For the most up-to-date information on the UI and the Flood of 2008, and for a large gallery of photos, visit the University's flood information web site at
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