GOP Governors, Bi-Partisan Congressmen: Flood Cost Killing Us, Can We Get a Plan?

Midwestern governors most of them Republicans, are mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore. Costs associated with record flooding, they say, and a lack of preparedness for such extreme events are devastating their states.

The governors have been on the war-path in the last week, testifying before Congress and sending a letter to lawmakers grilling the government and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Of course there have been the requisite debates about climate change—most of the governors still won’t accept the science—but all agree that more preparedness measures need to be taken so the past does not become prologue. In fact, the need to prepare for (more and more frequent) extreme weather events seems to be an issue both parties can agree on. In a recent report we put out, Thirsty For Answers, we document steps cities are already taken to prepare for the increase in extreme weather events attributed to climate change.

The GOP governors of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska North Dakota and South Dakota, in the letter  sent to Congress this week, questioned whether the Army Corps of Engineers followed protocol in dealing with the catastrophic floods along the Missouri river this summer that caused over $1 billion in damage to levees and crops, and calling for an independent Congressional review of the federal government’s handling of the disasters.

"It's not going to take much to put us into a similar position next year," said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) at a press conference in Omaha.

Heineman and his colleagues are worried that their states may not recover before additional rain hits this winter and spring. Army Corps of Engineers boss Gen. John McHahon responded that Congress needs to cough up more money to help the Corps control flooding and prevent future levee breakthroughs, USA Today reported. McMahon said the full flood prevention system along the Missouri will be “very vulnerable” come flood season in the spring as repairs won’t be made by then.

"It's going to be a dicey year," McMahon said.

Additionally, eight senators and Reps from the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska joined the fray yesterday in a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a turnout out Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called “unprecedented.” The senators and congressmen blamed the Corps for moving too slowly to fix river management policies they said exacerbating flood damage. The lawmakers said the Corps has also moved too slowly to rebuild flood-damaged levees in the shadow of the coming wet season, according to a story in E&E Daily (subscription required). All states represented were hit hard by massive floods on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers over the last year.

Floods along the Missouri River doubled historic flows as a result of rainfall 200 to 400 percent above normal throughout the region. According to the story, South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune said at the hearing:

"I fear that the corps is planning to move forward under the assumption that this was a one-off event."

The bad news here is Thune is right, the federal government is unprepared, even after President Obama called for federal agencies to prepare climate adaptation plans in 2009, and set up a joint Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Flood plain management is just one example—nothing has really changed.

The good news is that members of both parties agree further action is desperately needed to address increasing extreme weather events. And for good reason.2011 has already set the record for most $1 billion natural disasters, more than 10 so far totaling over $50 billion and making the US home to more violent/costly weather than any country on earth.

In the absence of direction from Washington, cities are leading the way in preparing for the impacts of climate change. As our Thirsty for Answers report lays out--Norfolk, VA, Phoenix, AZ, St. Louis, MO, Miami, FL, Chicago, IL, Homer, AK—are all taking action, from using permeable pavement that lets water soak into the ground instead of overwhelming drainage and sewer systems, to reusing 90% of the water treated in municipal wastewater systems (Phoenix) for things like irrigation, industrial cooling, habitat restoration, and golf course watering.

Hopefully actions such as these--largely the product of increased extreme precipitation events, and more frequent and extreme droughts--will help people understand that the world around them is changing, and that things are being done to deal with those changes. Belief follows behavior.

If, for example, you live in Chicago and see that the white oak—Illinois’ state tree—has been banned from city planting lists, and trees from the South like sweet gum and swamp oaks are being planted instead because of suitability to rising temperatures, you will take note. Hopefully this awareness will lead to calls for greater climate preparedness actions, and a greater sense of urgency to deal with a problem that affects people of all parties.