AP: States brace for long-term flood fight as damages mount

By on August 12, 2019

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  After devastating flooding this year, Iowa funneled $15 million into a special fund to help local governments recover and guard against future floods. Missouri budgeted more money to fight rising waters, including $2 million to help buy a moveable floodwall for a historic Mississippi River town that has faced flooding in all but one of the past 20 years.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced $10 million to repair damaged levees while creating a task force to study a system that in places has fallen into disrepair though years of neglect.

The states’ efforts might turn out to be only down payments on what is shaping up as a long-term battle against floods, which are expected to become more frequent and destructive with the rise in global temperatures.

“What is going on in the country right now is that we are having basically an awakening to the necessity and importance of waterway infrastructure,” said Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican who has been pushing to improve the state’s levees.

The movement is motivated not just by this year’s major floods in the Midwest, but by more than a decade of repeated flooding from intense storms such as Hurricane Harvey, which dumped 60 inches of rain on southeastern Texas in 2017. In November, Texas voters will decide whether to create a constitutionally dedicated fund for flood-control projects, jump-started with $793 million from state savings.

For years, states have relied heavily on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay the bulk of recovery efforts for damaged public infrastructure. While that remains the case, more states have been debating ways to supplement federal dollars with their own money dedicated not just to rebuilding but also to avoiding future flood damage. Those efforts may include relocating homes , elevating roads and bridges, strengthening levees and creating natural wetlands that could divert floodwaters from the places where people live and work.

“There are states who are realizing that they have an obligation to step up here, that flooding is really a state and local problem, and the federal taxpayer is not going to totally bail us out. We need to be thinking ahead and helping ourselves,” said Larry Larson, a former director and senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

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