Without state help, Iowa loses local flood-prevention staff

Environment

By Mike Moen, Public News Service- Iowa

Iowa is in danger of losing momentum for local coordination of flood prevention projects. That's the prediction of groups with ties to Watershed Management Authorities, whose funding request fell short at the State Capitol this session.

WMAs bring together cities, counties, and soil & water conservation districts to better manage flooding and other issues within a watershed. Nearly half of Iowa's 27 authorities have coordinators - and funding for the positions is expiring.

Kate Giannini, program and communications specialist for the Iowa Watershed Approach, said she worries about not having these voices to help build local strategies.

"We're always going to have the threat of floods," said Giannini. "But if we can try to mitigate and slow that water down, as much as we can, that's definitely going to help reduce the damages."

A key federal grant used to fund the coordinator positions sunsets at the end of June. The Center for Rural Affairs said four coordinators have already lost their jobs, with another handful expected to soon step down.

Supporters say despite not getting the funds they needed from the Legislature - through an earlier tax proposal in the Senate - they're maintaining talks with key decision-makers.

Watershed Management Authorities, established in 2010, now cover roughly 40% of Iowa.

Giannini said some of it is behind-the-scenes work, but the effort has helped inspire projects that have more public engagement. That includes the interactive Missouri River Flood Information System.

"It's a real-time information system," said Giannini. "When the flood is occurring, people know what that floodway is going to look like."

Kate Hansen - policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs - wondered how the lack of coordinators will affect local projects that are shovel-ready but might need some administrative finesse to turn them into reality.

"Coordinators are the ones that know this, that have these relationships," said Hansen. "And so just on - you know - July 1 to kind of snap your fingers, not have that important role in place, that really would be at the detriment to the momentum these groups have had."

Click here to listen to the interview

Feature photo by Kate Hansen