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A decade after the record flood, Iowa is still just as vulnerable

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

A decade after the devastating floods of 1993, the state still has a long way to go to protect itself against another deluge.

Iowans across the state have completed projects to help deal with floods. State and federal agencies have helped parts of Iowa rebuild levees, improve sewers and bridges, put up flood gates and install giant pumps. Towns have spent $58 million of federal and state taxpayer money through 2001 on buyouts of properties in flood-prone areas, according to state data.

But the efforts could be in vain.

"Essentially the same areas that suffered in '93 are just as vulnerable as they used to be," said Terry Stieger, emergency manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island, Ill., district.

During the summer of '93, destructive flooding hit at least nine states in the Midwest, killing 47 people and causing between $15 billion and $20 billion in damage.

Last week, work stopped on two corps' studies described as the most extensive flood control research for Des Moines and the eastern two-thirds of Iowa. Federal money for the studies fell short, despite a deadline set for the end of next year by Congress.

However, the project already has determined that Des Moines needs to make up to $10 million in levee improvements. And, state officials said Iowa needs more than $172 million for nearly all the communities that want flood protection.

About 700 cities or counties have drafted plans, but federal money doesn't meet the need in more than half of the state's communities, said Iowa Homeland Security Adviser Ellen Gordon.

Flood control studies for the Upper Mississippi, Des Moines and Raccoon rivers will cost taxpayers up to $8 million. The project needed more than $2 million in the budget year that ended last week, and federal funds fell short by nearly half.

"The alternatives are to give Congress an incomplete report or to simply say it's going to be late," said Gary Loss, deputy for project management for the corps' Rock Island district.

Some question if the work is worth it.

"If you are trying to protect from something that happens every 1,000 or 10,000 years, usually your cost and benefits don't fall out," said Jack Riessen, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' water quality bureau.

"You have to remember that the '93 flood, some people say, wasn't even a flood but a meteorological event," he said.



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