Iowa hot and dry, but flood prevention efforts continue

Environment

By Mike Moen, Public News Service - Iowa

Scorching temperatures with little rain might not prompt public fears about flooding, but that isn't stopping leaders in northeastern Iowa from preparing for the next deluge.

More than 1.6 million Iowans currently live in drought areas, but given the region's previous battles with floods, 16 county, city and other governmental agencies have formed a coalition to address concerns along the Shell Rock River.

Larry Young, mayor of Shell Rock, said his city has taken on mitigation efforts such as removing homes from the flood plain, but it's not always effective if surrounding agencies aren't on the same page. Young feels the coalition deals with the problem.

"You got everybody knowing what everybody else is doing, and that's a real plus in a situation like a flood," Young remarked.

He pointed out the river is a vital asset to surrounding communities, and keeping the waters from overflowing serves everyone's best interests. The coalition becomes Iowa's 27th group of local governments and agencies coming together to strategize about flood prevention. Advocates in the legislature pushed for more state funding this session to enhance such local efforts, but the request fell short.

Those helping to create these coalitions say if enough of them are established, it will build a strong line of defense against widespread flooding.

Cody Smith, policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said that means you might not see images of catastrophic flooding like that in western Iowa in 2019, when the Missouri River spilled over its banks.

"If something they can do at the top part of a watershed can help reduce the amount of water being lost rapidly in a rain event to that river's system, then they could really advantage communities that are below them," Smith explained.

In a summer when drought concerns are prevalent, Smith noted flood management efforts are just as important. Those involved aren't just planning for the next flood, they're looking at a range of scenarios.

"They look at water quantity as well as water quality," Smith pointed out. "And that doesn't always mean flooding. Sometimes, it means how do we manage our soil moisture better in times of drought. "

He added coalitions strive to make waterways less polluted. With Shell Rock listed as an impaired river, he expects the coalition to consider ways to improve the quality of the water, and not just manage its levels.

Click here to listen to the interview.