Editorial: Absurd For Iowa To Rebuild In Flood-prone Areas

This story was written by , Iowa State Daily
Land near rivers is subject to flooding.

Who knew?

Apparently not the city of Des Moines. Fifteen years after buying up destroyed sections of the Birdland Park neighborhoods following the Flood of 1993, they're doing it again.

After having bought inundated properties after the previous flood, the city proceeded to sell some of the properties to a developer, who in turn built new houses.

Then on June 14 of this year, the Birdland levee gave way yet again, and much of the same area that had been swamped 15 years earlier got it again.

The absurdity of the entire thing is almost mind-boggling. Flood, buyout, sell, develop, rinse and - quite literally - repeat. Seems a tad expensive.

It wouldn't be so bad if this were an isolated incident, but, sadly, things like this never seem to be. New Orleans, for instance, has the now-infamous Lower Ninth Ward, which covers much of the area that is farthest below sea level and, consequently, was almost totally destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. The Florida coast saw an average of three hurricanes a year last decade - a statistic that has already been surpassed this decade - and yet people still build right on the coast, right on the beach, and right where a hurricane's storm surge will eventually inundate their property.

The truth is this: there are just some places where people shouldn't build things. Rims of volcanoes, edges of precipitous cliffs and military shooting ranges may top the list, but flood and disaster prone areas have got to be right up there.

There are local implications to this, as well. A growing Ames seems to be reaching ever closer to the Skunk River in search of commercial real estate. The inevitable outcome can only be larger and larger-scale versions of what happened down on Duff Avenue earlier this summer.

City planning offers us an easy way out of this, however. Riverfronts make excellent parks and green space and also act as great sponges. One alternative might be to take a page from the Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates farmers for not cultivating highly erosive or environmentally sensitive land. Implementing a similar system in urban areas would provide incentives for developers and other landowners to refrain from placing structures in flood-prone areas and avoid the entire expensive cycle of government buyouts, redevelopment and eventual re-flooding.