Caring for the Cedar River - Kamyar Enshayan

Caring for the Cedar River

by Kamyar Enshayan – Cedar Falls City Council

This week, The American Rivers, a national river protection organization, chose the Cedar River among the top ten endangered rivers in America. The underlying causes are familiar: radically altered landscape, loss of wetlands, impairment of floodplains, federal policies encouraging farming practices that have degraded soil functions, too much fertilizer and pesticides, straightened out creek and streams, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and overall loss of the capacity of the land to absorb, retain, process and release water.

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Iowa Cities, State Legislators Opposed Flood Plain Management Steps

(Unbelievable. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As Iowa citizens brace themselves for another spring flood season, Iowa mayors, city council members and state lawmakers are doing everything they can to STOP even modest flood prevention planning from going forward in the Iowa Legislature. If you’re scratching you head and wondering why, it may be time to contact your elected officials and ask them. The following is an action alert sent out yesterday by the Iowa Environmental Council.  You can follow the link to a sample message to send to state lawmakers or copy and send to your elected city officials…

…more…after the jump…

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Global climate change and Iowa's severe storms/flooding

It is probably still an inconvenient or touchy time to be talking about this with all of the truly disastrous flooding coming to an end in Iowa and the cleanup just beginning.  But it has to be said: we weren’t truly prepared for this kind of disaster and we have to take steps to prevent it from happening in the future.

Brad Johnson, a research associate at the Center for American Progress and a blogger at their Wonk Room policy blog, brought my attention to a couple of his posts on the terrible flooding and storms in the Midwest this summer, particularly in Iowa.  And in those posts he makes a couple of fascinating points.

First, he notes Sen. Chuck Grassley’s hypocrisy in calling attention to the complacency over severe weather (speaking on the Senate floor about the deadly Parkersburg tornado) yet voted to filibuster the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.

Second, he notes an unfortunate quote from Gov. Chet Culver about our inability to “anticipate or prepare for” these types of events.  The facts are that reports since at least 2000 have been forecasting the types of weather patterns Iowa has been experiencing over the last couple of years.  See the link above for more information at Johnson’s post.

It seems clear that leadership on both sides of the political spectrum in Iowa have failed us.  They are not considering the big picture when it comes to environmental concerns in the state of Iowa.  And statewide environmental groups aren’t putting the pressure on local and state officials to keep them accountable either.

We need better and bolder leadership on the broad issues of global climate change and environmental issues in Iowa.  Whether or not you want to attribute the cause of these terrible weather patterns to global climate change, call them a natural aberration, or simply just call them normal, our leaders should be considering some important things when moving forward with reconstruction.  Bill Becker at Climate Progress offers more details, but here is his list which he deems lessons from an angry planet:

  1. We need to put unprecedented pressure on our national leaders to get serious about mitigation and adaptation.
  2. It’s past time to rethink national flood control and water management strategy.
  3. When we repair and rebuild disaster-damaged buildings and infrastructure, we should do so with cutting-edge mitigation and adaptation in mind.

Groups like the Iowa Global Warming Campaign, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Iowa Environmental Council, and any other group committed to protecting and defending Iowa’s environment should be tackling issues like this.  Granted, there are concerns about hog lots, Iowa’s waterways, and coal power plants to be concerned about as well.  Heck, even 1000 Friends of Iowa should be concerned about future development that not only is environmentally-friendly but that protects families and businesses on or near flood plains.

The state needs leadership on these pressing issues.  We call events like these “100 year floods” and “500 year floods” for a reason.  The frequency with which they occur is not what is implied, but the the likelihood that they will.  In just a 15 year period of time, we’ve experienced drastic periods of extreme drought and extreme precipitation.  You can even go back to periods in the 1980s (particularly around 1984) and see the same type of patterns, but with less severity.  We are certainly experiencing more severity with more frequency.  This is a result of global climate change.  We aren’t taking the threats seriously and we aren’t preparing ourselves for the future–either by accommodating the tragic effects that are likely or by acting to stop these events from happening in the first place.

The big debate in Iowa that is now emerging as the flood waters head downstream and leave the state is how to pay for all of the destruction and prepare for the reconstruction.  Some want to use the state’s rainy-day fund and others are looking at incurring state debt as an option.  In the end, the debate will be politically charged about fiscal issues and not the bigger picture.  Democrats and Progressives in Iowa have to think big picture or our meager political gains (and the state itself) will be washed away, no pun intended.

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How to finance Iowa's massive flood costs

There seem to be two distinct ideas emerging for financing the massive reconstruction project Iowa will have to enact to deal with the tragic and disastrous floods we’ve experienced this spring (on a quick side note, I sure hope that summer fares us better).  The first is to tap into the state’s so-called “rainy day” fund (no pun was intended, I’m sure) and the other is to borrow money and essentially create debt.  Both are the logical responses to a natural disaster of this magnitude.  I think it was a Johnson County emergency management official who said this was “our own Katrina.”  Whether he meant that in terms of sheer destruction or bad planning or reactions to the event, I’m not sure.  But the statement still leaves an impact.

Once we get beyond the human and emotional costs of the flooding, we will ultimately have to deal with the political ramifications of financing the reconstruction.  Governor Culver seems to prefer using the state’s rainy day fund.  Senate Majority Leader Gronstal says he’s open to incurring debt.  So what are we to do?

At first glance, Gov. Culver’s idea would seem to the most politically feasible and publicly attractive option on the table.  The state and taxpayers won’t have to incur debt or use their taxes to pay off the bills because they’ll just use the extra money they have right now to reconstruct Iowa.  But I think there should be serious consideration of incurring debt to finance the reconstruction.

To me, the root of the problem is whether we want to rebuild or reconstruct what has been destroyed.  Those mean different things.  Rebuilding implies we’ll bring things back to the status quo, maybe with some minor improvements.  Reconstruction implies a step forward and desire to plan and implement improvements and to change the way we do things.  Iowa needs the investment in the future and needs to show that the state has the ability and capability to plan effectively, plan efficiently, and act with speed to solve problems and fix what has broken.

Incurring debt isn’t such a bad thing, as David Yepsen told us yesterday.  There are reasons to consider it.  Tapping into the rainy day fund isn’t a bad idea either.  But will either one be enough?

The special legislative session to deal with this issue is going to happen; it has to.  But the debate will be a lengthy one.  And it will result in tough decisions.  Contrary to what others argue, waiting to see what the federal government will pay for is not an option.  If this truly is “our Katrina” then we all know that federal disaster response is horrid.  The state must act soon.

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