Monday, June 16, 2008

Greenbelts, Greenways and Flood Prevention

June 16, 2008, 10:20 a.m.

Flood Prevention with Greenbelts

Now that the flood waters appear to be receding, we, like the River itself, are going through a number of stages. At some point there will be a time for reflection, looking to the future, and proactive planning.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described what has come to be known as the "Five Stages of Grief," On Death and Dying (1969): denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

There are another kind of "stages" to a flood: "flood stage," "crest stage," and "receding stage."

But a variation on Kübler-Ross' stages of grief are also present.

There's the hope that what seems probable maybe won't happen. The initial shock that it is happening. The kumbaya stage of coming together, sand bagging, volunteers and heros. Then what Cedar Rapids is going through now, when hard-working, tired, public officials of good will, trying to provide for the safety of life and property, confront the frustrated citizens who want and need to get to their homes and are prevented from doing so. The stage of waiting, patience and frustration, and hardship that comes when the water is no longer rising each day, but it's not going away, either. The stage when the River finally returns to stay inside its banks, but what it has left in fields, neighborhoods and business districts remains. Finally, there is the clean-up stage when the elected officials, mass media, volunteers and kumbaya has long since vanished, leaving victims to fend for themselves with the muck and the bureaucracy of insurance companies, contractors, and FEMA.

But then comes the stage of reflection and proactive planning.

And when that time comes we need to think long and hard about Greenbelts, Greenways and the conservation bond issue on the ballot this November 4th.

See, Nicholas Johnson, "Preserving for Our Grandchildren," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2008, p. A13, reproduced in Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts for Grandchildren," February 15 and 20, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "GO Iowa! - The G-reat O-utdoors of Iowa," May 5, 2008, a reference to the Web site GO Iowa! at; and the bond support group, "Our Land, Our Water, Our Future," at

Even if we had never suffered the losses from flooding in the past, and would never have another flood in the future, we should promote the idea of a Greenbelt around the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Coridor, and Greenways and filters along Iowa's Rivers.

There are hundreds of ways of setting aside land for conservation besides purchase or gifts -- and no need to recite them all now. Uses such as golf courses and farming can continue -- along with forests, prairies and wetlands. The benefits include recreational uses, hunting and fishing, wildlife habitats, "smart growth" for urban areas, with increased real estate values.

But the values also include cleaner water, less soil erosion -- and reduced impact, or elimination of damage from, flooding.

Why is this? For starters, Greenbelts contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases and our carbon footprint. But even those who don't believe we're getting climate changes from global warming can appreciate the reduction in water runoff.

The streets of suburbia, and parking lots of shopping malls, don't absorb much rainfall. Forests, prairies and wetlands do. Planting the right "filters" along rivers can slow runoff, prevent erosion of our farm land, and minimize flash floods and rapid rise in our rivers.

Are Greenbelts the total answer to flooding? Of course not. But they are a major part of the answer.

There are plenty of reasons to support Greenbelts and Greenways besides flood control. But while we're trying to figure out how we're going to pay for recovery from our recent multi-billion-dollar losses in Iowa from flooded rivers, we might want to start thinking about that $20 million bond issue as a mighty small down payment toward reducing losses like that in the years to come.

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