Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book examines lessons learned from Iowa's ’08 floods

Alma Gaul in the Quad City Times (Iowa): In June 2008, the rivers of eastern Iowa rose above their banks to create floods of epic proportions, ruining farm fields and displacing thousands of residents and businesses. Many people still are struggling to recover; some never will.

A new book, “A Watershed year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008,” edited by Cornelia F. Mutel, examines various facets of this flood, keying in on what lessons were, or might be, learned. The book’s 25 chapters are written by different people, from different viewpoints, including college professors, hydrologists and city public works directors.

An overriding point is that floods will inevitably happen in the future, perhaps with greater frequency because of our changing climate, and that we would be wise to take a somewhat different approach to mitigating them, an approach that takes into account a river’s entire watershed, not just the immediate flood plain.

…Restoring our land so it will absorb and hold water is a new beginning, she says. She doesn’t dismiss the flood-control approaches already in use. Valuable structures must still be flood-proofed or moved out of the flood plain.

Well-planned levees and other barriers also are part of the management puzzle, although there is a growing mind-shift among people involved in flood planning away from the idea that raging rivers can be contained with levees. Instead, there is growing understanding that rivers need to be managed with techniques that will mitigate flooding, such as creating more wetlands to hold runoff.

This will have added benefits: improving water quality by allowing water to filter, creating wildlife habitat and providing carbon sequestration. But a shift away from the levee mentality will require major re-thinking of our relationship with the landscape and could entail large-scale policy changes that need to, as she says, “surmount institutional and policy inertia, as well as challenge the power of special interests and lobbies.”…

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