Some worry flood plain guidelines could dry up new business
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -- Flooding in the summer of 2008 created billions of dollars in damage, thousands of people were evacuated from their homes and nearly 1,300 businesses were left under water. The Des Moines River left its banks, swallowing homes and businesses. And in Cedar Rapids, it was the Cedar River that consumed the city.
The total financial loss to Iowa, with agricultural losses factored in, was expected to top $10 billion, according to Governor Chet Culver.
It's because of those floods in Eastern Iowa, one committee wants to have legislation that would expand the flood plain level, which could have a devastating economic impact here in Northwest Iowa. And they plan to take it to the capitol floor next month.
A 100-year flood plain is the area neighboring a waterway that could be impacted in the event of a 100-year flood, or a flood that happens once every 100 years. On the other hand, a 500-year flood plain is the same concept, but on a much larger scale and involves a flood that happens once every 500 years.
So, if all Iowa flood plains are expanded to the 500-year level, what will it mean for those in or near flood plains in Siouxland? Some say what could be good for one part of the state isn't necessarily good for everyone.
"This plan is trying to avoid something like that," said Sioux City Rep. Wes Whitead (D), referring to the Cedar Rapids devastation.
"A one size solution does not work for all of us," said Sioux City Rep. Christopher Rants (R).
A 500-year flood plain in Sioux City would include the Sioux Gateway Airport, Southbridge Industrial Park and nearly the entire downtown area. Some say that could have an overwhelming impact to the economic development of those areas.
"We really don't know the scope of the problem. But we know it's going be bigger than the 100-year event, and it's already large enough," said Jim Johnson of Siouxland Chamber of Commerce.
According to FEMA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulations, if you've already built in a flood plain area, you can remain there. But, you can't build new, unless it's one foot above the flood plain.
"Where do you get that much fill to build large manufacturing facilities?" Johnson asked.
If the proposed legislation goes through, it's not just Sioux City that will be trying to keep its head above water.
"Much of Monona County and Onawa is low, flat Missouri River bottom," said Onawa mayor Rebecca Tanner.
That means nearly the entire county would be part of the 500-year flood plain.
Tanner said, "We should be doing this basin by basin. They can take care of their river basins as they deem necessary and would be more advantageous to their communities and we need to be allowed to do the same."
"The Missouri River is channeled. It's is set with locks and dams up stream. It's not like the farm ponds and the creeks that were feeding into the Iowa River that flooded Cedar Rapids," said Rants.
But others say the proposed flood plain expansion is a step in the right direction.
"We should look further than that like I said, the retention ponds, the dams up stream," Whitead said.
Another question raised is flood insurance. Who will have to get it? Will it be recommended for those folks in the 500-year flood plain? It's a topic that's sure to be a heated discussion next legislative session starting next month.