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After the Flood

One week after flood waters have receded, and after the Native American Coalition’s Walk for Water asking that we honor all river’s rights, it is a good time to talk about flood control plans for the future, because we can address both things at the same time.

Flooding is the costliest type of natural disaster in the US, responsible for about 90% of the damage from natural disasters. Yet, aging infrastructure meant to protect, is in most places bad shape, and, in some cases, failing. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave stormwater infrastructure in our country a D grade in 2021.

While new funding is available in the Jobs Act of 2021, new infrastructure planning commonly relies on historical flood patterns rather than the forecasts of changing risks due to climate change.

In the new bill, there is $55 billion in new spending for water infrastructure, money that is making its way to our communities. However, if we use historical data, such as high water marks and storm intensity to determine future flood risk, we won’t be prepared for the future. Climate change is moving those baselines. Years of satellite observations have shown that extreme wet and extreme dry conditions have increased in duration and severity. A warming atmosphere can hold more moisture.

So what can communities do? Incorporating climate change into infrastructure planning and developing innovative policies for better flood management is a start. Stopping construction in flood-prone areas can help.

Buy-outs of frequently flooded homes to prevent rebuilding are expensive and slow, but they have been used in almost every state to avoid repeated flooding. Success depends on the effort being community-led and the QC’s, especially Davenport, has had good success.

Now, this is where recognizing the rights of the river comes in. Nature-based solutions, such as bioswales, wetlands and rain gardens can be relatively affordable methods to help capture rainwater lowering flood levels.

Another solution is to find sustainable funding mechanisms like establishing local dedicated funds supported by government grants, private donations and small local taxes. Managed well, they could invest in long-term solutions and sustainable land practices all designed to stand up to the future. It is the fiscally responsible thing to do, and the ethical thing to do to preserve the water quality in our rivers.