Cedar Rapids Gazette: Iowa Lawmakers Propose Major Flood Funding

Thursday, January 20, 2011

By James Q. Lynch
SourceMedia Group News

Iowa lawmakers have proposed a 10-year, $600 million incentive-based approach to pre-disaster flood mitigation so Iowans don’t ever suffer the type of losses caused by flooding in 2008 and 2010.

Included is $1.3 million for the Iowa Flood Center, a unit of IIHR--Hydroscience & Engineering on the University of Iowa campus.

“In the last three years, Iowa’s economy has been hammered by more than $8 billion in damage due to flood disaster,” according to Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a sponsor of Senate File 53. “In order to help Iowa’s economy grow, we need to reduce flood damage so that businesses and communities can focus their resources on business expansion and creating jobs, not rebuilding from disasters.”

SF 53 would provide $60 million a year for 10 years from the state general fund to improve and leverage federal, state and private funds to implement voluntary measures proven to prevent flood damage by holding back flood waters in the watershed and helping cities and counties mitigate known flood hazards, Hogg explained.

That’s a hefty price tag, Hogg and his co-sponsors acknowledged. However, the proposed investment in voluntary watershed management, pre-disaster mitigation and technical and planning assistance is a pay-me-now or pay-me-later proposition, he said at a Statehouse news conference Jan. 19.

If the investment isn’t made now, “Iowans pay for flood damage with heartache and trauma in their own lives and taxpayers pick up that bill,” he said. “That bill is a lot bigger later than it is now.”

Coming from Cedar Rapids, which suffered the brunt of the flood damage in 2008, Hogg said it’s “an investment we have to make.”

“We can’t afford to have downtown Cedar Rapids flooded again or else you will absolutely ruin the state’s second largest city and economy and drive away employers who employ thousands of Iowans,” he said.

It’s not a matter of if it floods again, but when, said Sen. Dennis Black, D-Lynnville. “It’s virtually inevitable … perhaps on an annual basis, somewhere in this state we will see devastation.”

“We can’t control the rain, but we can control the run-off,” added Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said. The measures proposed would have the added benefits of improving water quality as well as hunting and fishing opportunities, he said.

Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, plans to file a similar bill in the House.

“My community, Cedar Falls, was heavily impacted. Waterloo also and other communities along the Cedar River basin,” he said. “We can’t sit and let these things go. We need to address it now.”

Senate File 53 $60 million annual appropriation:

  • $3 million for comprehensive watershed management planning
  • $4.2 million for staff at the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship to provide technical assistance for rural and urban conservation practices to reduce flood waters and improve water quality
  • $1.3 million for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa
  • $2 million for the state existing Flood Plain Management Program
  • $30 million for watershed projects such as detention basis, wetland restoration, agriculture conservation practices, buffer strips and urban conservation efforts
  • $20 million for pre-disaster hazard mitigation to help cities and counties avoid flood damage by improving floodplain practices and relocating or flood-proofing practices