« Remembering Tim Russert | Main | Guns N' Justices »

June 14, 2008


I remember the flood of 1993. We have 500 year floods every 15 years now. Isn't putting a band-aid on the current problem ignoring the larger one?

Applying bandages and attending to underlying causes are not mutually exclusive options. Thanks, hilzoy, for the link.

Made a donation. Thanks for suggesting, hilzoy.

Applying bandages and attending to underlying causes are not mutually exclusive options

Well that's good because I haven't heard anyone say anything about the underlying cause yet. Care to start?

On the plus side the river silt should increase the fertility of the soil, Nile style.

Unbelieveable. This is shaping up to be a really bad year for the Midwest. When will it ever end?

Echoing now_what: can we finally have a serious conversation in this country about moving toward a sustainable way of life?

a serious conversation in this country about moving toward a sustainable way of life

Venetian gondolas and singing lessons for everyone? It will do wonders for the Chinese tourist trade . . .

It won't be at all like Katrina. We're talking about an area not hugely corrupt, with a functional economy. After the water recedes, it will still make sense to live there, and farm there. They'll recover quite nicely, though of course they'd rather it hadn't happened. Probably make some changes to the building codes, though.

The only reason it made any sense to keep New Orleans around in a hole below sea level next to the ocean, was that it already existed. Wipe it off the map, and nobody in their right mind would rebuild it that way. Which is why rebuilding is going so badly...

As for underlying causes: Iowa has lost approximately 99 percent of its original wetlands, the highest proportion of any state. The state now has a wetlands restoration program, but it's only a few thousand acres, compared to the original 4 *million* acres of wetlands.

The only reason it made any sense to keep New Orleans around in a hole below sea level next to the ocean, was that it already existed. Wipe it off the map, and nobody in their right mind would rebuild it that way. Which is why rebuilding is going so badly...

Wrong on both counts, Brett.

1) There is no way *not* to have a city at the mouth of the Mississippi, it's one of the most logical locations in North America. It's not coincidence that the Quarter was basically unflooded, because NO was founded to be at the highest convenient spot.

2) the rebuilding is going badly because the people in charge don't want it to go well. Corruption, negligence, more corruption, racism, and also corruption -- in companies and on *every* level of government.

As a native Iowan who lived through the floods in the summer of 1993 (when the entire city of Des Moines was without water for something like 10 days or more), I really can't believe that this is worse. Just unbelievable. Back in 1993 there were worries that Saylorville Lake dam, some 10 miles north of Des Moines would burst, flooding all of downtown Des Moines and washing out all of the bridges (which would have a greater impact on the country as I-80 runs through the city and over the river (but not through the woods!)). Haven't heard of similar worries this time.

After 1993, having had the Des Moines water works flooded even though they had "100 year" levees around it, they built levees that could withstand a 500 year flood. Hopefully this one is only a 499 year flood.

The Des Moines register has coverage here.

Wow, apparently a levee broke last night in Des Moines, threatening a large area of the city, including North High School, where I played several basketball games in high school (sadly, losing every single one).

Jesus, who whole state is a disaster. Water threatening the University of Iowa hospitals. "The city expected Friday to close every bridge, rendering travel between Iowa City's east and west sides impossible.... Travel to and from Interstate Highway 80 from Coralville's First Avenue, and from Iowa City's Dubuque Street, has been completely shut down. If Iowa Highway 1, the only remaining thoroughfare to I-80, is closed, the area will be essentially cut off from the rest of the state."

As for crops/food, my father, who owns some farmland but not an actual farmer so take this FWIW, tells me that all the rains caused a delay in planting crops, which generally results in a low harvest. Not good.

Video of a flyover of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City here. Huh, from that video parts of I-80 are already closed.

Back in 1993, there was a gush of water flowing down 2nd Avenue in Des Moines. Some kid got out his body board and literally boarded down the street as a news helicopter circled overhead. It was amazing.

Fortunately, unlike Katrina, there hasn't been any massive deaths involved.

Could someone release my comment (too many links I guess)? I'll just link to the Des Moines Register's coverage for now.

More rain in the forecast for Cedar Rapids.

What I've read suggests that the Midwest rivers are over-leveed. Levees channelize water, increasing its velocity and scouring power and increasing the impact of peak storms.

Of course, it's pretty easy to sit in SoCal and suggest that midwestern farmers lower or remove their levees and have their land flooded on a regular basis in order to protect people downstream.

I don't know if the modelling of AGW suggests that these kinds of storms in the Midwest are consistent with current levels of CO2.

110 mile detour on I-80.

"Made a donation. Thanks for suggesting, hilzoy."

Same here. Good to be able to do something to help.

Longer term helping - re: wetlands - while obviously on a very different scale, here in the Philly/SE PA area we've been having a problem in recent years with (localized) flooding from what would have been big but not serious storms, apparently in part due to development, replacing woodland, farmland, fields and wetlands with concrete and asphalt, so instead of sinking in, rain just runs right off. Land preservation and restoration.

And helping folks get out of the way in areas where that's the best option (although there's potential for abuse here, of course), which ties into the above.

- I just found out that FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (and related stuff) wasn't, in fact, killed by Bushism, although hard to say how functional it is now.

(Not to mention the more global aspects)

Dan: Out here (I'm just north of Trenton) we can do things like buy out the relatively few people living in the most flood-prone areas, e.g. the Island section of Trenton. In the Mississippi Valley, a lot of the best farmland is going to be in the floodplain, and a lot of the towns. *Everyone* would have to agree to give the rivers wider berths, and I don't know if that's politically conceivable.

Historically rivers in the Midwest underwent massive changes in course every few decades or centuries. Its likely that this summers flooding would cause a change in course without all the levees.

Brett Bellmore's post is pretty funny since it boils down to "they'd never let white people suffer like black people...not that there's anything racist about that." I have some news for you, BB, "they" are going to let *lots of people drown, go under financially, be ruined* because *they* can't afford anything else. Floods, poor roads, crashed bridges, lack of spending on infrastructure, no national guard, an insufficiency of medical care, bottled water, insurance coverage--this isn't stuff that happened to New Orleans because it was "corrupt" it happened to New Orleans and it will definitely happen to Iowa and to any other future disaster sites in the US because our republican government believes in not taxing but spending on foreign public works projects like the Iraq and Afghan wars. Corruption doesn't mean what you think it means--it happens all the way up and down the line of this economy and polity. But thanks for explaining to us what Bush adn Cheney thought when they left the people of New Orleans to drown, and then when they allowed the corruption of FEMA to collect millions of dollars of aid, ice, and household objects and then refused to disburse them to the needy. That was sure logical and natural and could never, ever, happen to the nice folks of Iowa.


Came back to post a link to "Fema gives away 85 million dollars worth of household goods" that it failed to disburse to the needy of new orleans.http://www.first-draft.com/2008/06/cnn-fema-gave-a.html

We also had flooding up where I live by Wisconsin Dells. Lake Delton, home of Tommy Bartlett's waterskiing show, flowed over a road and totally emptied out. It's gone. We had water up over the Main Street bridge in my little town.

Speaking of flooding and Katrina, has anyone noticed this Salon article about all the ways politics trumped disaster management during the crisis? I made a lot of excerpts in this blog post if you don't want to watch the ad.

uh, furball :

Iowa is the source of field-enriching fertile sediments, not the place where they are deposited. The torrential rains that caused these floods will have stripped topsoil from fields and sent it to the Gulf.

And that soil in turn was created by millenia of wetlands and tallgrass prairie that burned every few years. Looks like the wetlands are determined to make a comeback.

Levee breaches in Des Moines.

This is hard to see. I lived in Cedar Rapids for two years, and also spent significant time in Des Moines, Waterloo, and Iowa City.

The image that came to mind the moment I heard predictions of the flood is captured by this AP photo (#2 in the series). Cedar Rapids' city hall is located on an island in the river ("Just like Paris!" CR natives say wryly).

My next mental image was of a Katrina-like devastation of the east side, which appears also, sickeningly, to have become reality.

Cedar Rapids is divided in two by the river, with the downtown office buildings all clustered down near the river on the west side. Behind them, the land slopes upward The east side is flat, flat, flat, and contains (surprise!) the poorest neighborhoods.

When I lived there they were populated by the aging Czechs who originally unionized the meatpacking and other plants, and their descendants. The African-Americans brought up from Mississippi to bust them, who then became mainstays of the union themselves, live mostly in the area around the meatpacking plant (now closed) further up the river.

Iowa's Democratic Party was built entirely from the state's few areas of dense population, and not that long ago. Now it has support from more of those farmers that form most non-Iowans' impression of the whole state, but it would be nothing without Des Moines, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids, particularly the east side.

The Boston Globe Big Picture blog has 15 huge flood photos. The sixth one down, from China after the earthquake, is truly amazing. There are two good ones from the Midwest near the end.

The Obama campaign is organizing relief and fundraising efforts for this disaster, and apparently Sen. Obama himself will be helping out on the ground, and part of his campaign website is devoted to raising visibility and money for this. Classy, especially the way he's not calling attention to his efforts.

I grew up in Des Moines (well, West Des Moines) but I seem to never be there when this happens. I was in Los Angeles in '93 when everyone lost water for days (I did happen to catch the Northridge quake in '94 though). Now I am living in Norway.

Thankfully, my family seems ok, but I really need to get a hold of some friends in Cedar Rapids. Man, those pictures are just...man.

Where did you grow up Ugh?

Where did you grow up Ugh?

West side of Des Moines. Roosevelt High School.

"There is no way *not* to have a city at the mouth of the Mississippi, it's one of the most logical locations in North America. It's not coincidence that the Quarter was basically unflooded, because NO was founded to be at the highest convenient spot."

Yup, the part of the city that actually serves any rational purpose didn't need to be rebuilt, it was largely intact. The part that DID need rebuilding was irrational to rebuild in the same place and fashion.

A historical sequence of steps, each locally rational, resulted in a circumstance which was globally nuts: People living in a below sea level hole next to a coast subject to hurricanes. So long as that circumstance already existed, it made some kind of sense to sustain it. But once nature swept in and flooded the hole, it didn't make much sense to pump it out and build more homes down at the bottom of it.

Unless it's really a theme park, not a city, in which case Disney corporation should have been given the contract to rebuild it, somewhere else.

"Brett Bellmore's post is pretty funny since it boils down to "they'd never let white people suffer like black people...not that there's anything racist about that.""

That bears so little resemblance to what I actually wrote, I don't even feel the slightest urge to correct your deluded ravings.

I'm from Ames.

It doesn't appear that my home town has a flooding problem this summer. I did a yahoo and found some videos of the river up over its banks but that happens all the time.

So far so good I guess for Ames.

The striking similarities to Katrina never cease. Now, we are seeing the specter of environmental racism/classism. Check out this from an AP report:

"The rest of the city's levees were holding, and downtown Des Moines was safe. A voluntary evacuation order was lifted late in the afternoon except for Birdland, and several river bridges reopened.

Authorities knew the aging levee near Birdland, a working-class, racially diverse neighborhood, was the weakest link among the city's levees. A 2003 Corps report called for nearly $10 million in improvements across Des Moines, but there wasn't enough federal money to do all the work.

"This was the first to fail, and we felt it was the one likely to fail," said Bill Stowe, the city's public works director.

Some residents were upset that other areas of city have received more flood-control improvements than Birdland since massive floods hit the area in 1993."

The French Quarter has no industry (except for tourism) and the industries associated with the port require people to work them. Those people have to live somewhere, and they lived in Greater New Orleans. I'm not sure where else you would put them if they need to come to work in New Orleans.

It is also important to place some of the blame on the Corps of Engineers, for a lot of their 'improvements' are what made Katrina so damaging. The city itself did not have so much say in the various flood protections that were built.

Well, the Netherlands are to a non-negligible degree below sea level (thus the name) and the North Sea is one of the nastiest seas on Earth. Somehow the inhabitants were able to cope with that for centuries despite the occasional massive floodings. Maybe the principle of "Wer nicht will deichen, der muß weichen!" (levee or leave!) has something to do with that.

Btw, I recommend
The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany by David Blackbourn for some historical perspective. A lot of the "modern" problems are centuries old and the "solutions" likewise.

Look, Liberal, you had people living in a hole next to the ocean, a hole that had to be continually pumped out. (That's why it was a hole, the pumping is causing the ground to subside!)

Sure, some people need to live somewhere near the port. But, do they need to live down in a hole? There were other options that made more sense, you know, besides recreating the NO that was.

Valley High class of '87 here. I knew some people over there in the punk crowd at the time, but for the life of me cannot remember their names, at least last names.

Class of '91.

Probably not a bad time to recall the thesis of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, and keep an eye on what follows in the wake of this crisis.

There were other options that made more sense, you know, besides recreating the NO that was.

I wish you could detail all those other options that I am supposed to know. To help you get started on some logical suggestions, here is a NO elevation map. I don't have one of similar detail for the state of Louisiana, but please remember that the highest point about sea level is over by Ruston, a mere 5 hour drive from New Orleans and is a whopping 535 feet above sea level and I'm thinking that unless there is a public mass transit system in the deal, you can only really move people 30 minutes.

I'd also be interested in your take in how much the government should build to have those people move and what kind of money they should spend to accomplish this task. I seem to remember you are often complaining about how much government spends of your money, so I'm wondering what you think would be a fair sum to recreate the necessary human infrastructure for the NO port facilities.

Brett Bellmore,
Oddly, the dutch managed to live very successfully in a "hole" that needs to be kept pumped out all the time. And yeah, my free translation of your observation must seem really unkind, because your posts are so confused as to what you are arguing that you don't seem to grasp the implications. New Orleans didn't go under because of local corruption, and it isn't being rebuilt/not being rebuilt because of local corruption. It went under because it grew organically and without plan, because the entirely not local army corps of engineers didn't do a good job before and has continued to not do a good job, and because the largely white/federal and corporate interests see no value in rebuilding the parts of the city where poor black working people lived and have sequestered the charitable donations and rebuilding money for corporate/gaming interests and tourism rather than the multitude of jobs that formerly employed the working class population. Your summing up of the situation in which you blamed the largely black voters (the public/government) of your crack about local corruption just really pissed me off. Iowa is going to find itself in a very difficult position pretty soon. That isn't because its largely white but because this is a catastrophe and our current government has given the store away already to Iraq and afghanistan, because the insurance system either doesn't apply (people didn't have flood insurance) or they are going to find out that insurance is colorblind in this, if no other thing--that it doesn't want to pay out for any reason.

I expect to see Iowa go blue blue blue over this when they realize that they have been voting in corrupt republican leadership at the national level that doesn't give a *&^ about them. And perhaps, unlike you, they will look at Katrina and grasp that its not a case of "there, but for the grace of god" go I but "wow, we really are all in this together."


I was watching the Weather Channel that night because Madison was at the tail end of the storm system that ravaged Kansas and Iowa, and they had an interview with someone in Cedar Rapids that basically amounted to: "Well, we'll say nice things at your funeral tomorrow." Truly chilling.

The comments to this entry are closed.