Activists: More Flood Protection Needed in Iowa

August 9, 2010

Environmental advocates and Iowa state and city officials are urging the state to expand wetlands and flood plain protections, arguing that the changing climate is increasing the danger of flooding.

“Flooding across the state is becoming a growing threat due to changes in land use and as rivers are increasingly cut off from their flood plains,” said Mark Tercek, president of the Nature Conservancy.

Iowa is in a crucial spot because of both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, he said. The Missouri River drains roughly one-sixth of the United States, while the Mississippi River empties directly into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Keeping the state’s waters, wetlands and flood plains strong and healthy is not only important to Iowans,” he said. “I have to say it’s important to the nation as a whole.”

Bill Ehm, a water policy specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the state needs to spend up to $10 million more a year dealing with wetlands and flood plain issues.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said there have been at least 15 flood disasters declared since 1990.

“It is time we change the way we manage the watersheds and flood plains,” Hogg said.

He said projects such as wetland expansion can be combined with installing pavement that allows water to seep into the ground rather than runoff into fields and streams, and barrels to collect rainfall from homes can be part of the solution.

“It has to work with natural solutions,” said Hogg. “We need thousands of those projects.”

Flooding has swamped the state again this year, and officials are dealing with a breached dam that drained the nine-mile-long Lake Delhi in Delaware County.

Tercek said the Nature Conservancy has worked with farmers along the Boone River, efforts that he said have benefited farmers and the environment.

“In the Boone River, we’ve partnered with farmers to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss saving farmers the cost of having to constantly replace these nutrients while also preventing damaging runoff from entering the Mississippi River and ending up on the Gulf of Mexico,” Tercek said.

The officials held a news conference near where the Raccoon River and Des Moines River converge in downtown Des Moines. Des Moines Public Works director Bill Stowe said many people don’t understand that the city is at the epicenter of a giant drainage area of about 10,000 square miles.

“We in Des Moines receive water that falls all the way into southern Minnesota,” he said.

The advocates also are pushing voters to back a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November. That amendment would dedicate a portion of the next increase in the state’s sales tax to environmental programs.

The amendment wouldn’t increase the tax, but merely direct how a portion of it would be spent.

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