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Flood advisory panel learns more about what flood recovery will cost

by Phillip Sitter | October 18, 2019 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated October 18, 2019 at 11:14 a.m.

The damage and losses for just a sampling of the transportation infrastructure affected by this year's flooding is up to more than $383 million, but Missouri's flood recovery group also learned Thursday about what may be possible with investment in a real-time flood information system.

Gov. Mike Parson's Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group of state departments, levee district associations, agricultural associations and others heard a presentation Thursday from Larry Weber, a professor in civil and environmental engineering at The University of Iowa's College of Engineering.

Missouri's flood recovery group is tasked with submitting an initial report on its findings, with recommendations, by the end of December, with a final report due by the end of May 2020.

Weber spoke about how Iowa responded to devastating flooding that hit Cedar Rapids in 2008, when the Cedar River overflowed into the heart of the city.

The state responded by deploying hundreds of autonomous water level sensors on bridges to complement federal gauges, installing soil moisture sensors - with a goal of having one in each county in the state - updating flood inundation maps for the entire state and implementing 26 community-based inundation maps so far that can show which buildings on which block will be flooded by how much water and can expect how much damage given a certain river level.

In other words, Iowa can see a flood coming in real time - with forecasts issued every 15 minutes for 1,000 communities - and can get a preliminary estimate of how severe and damaging a flood will be before it even hits by incorporating a variety of data and the computing power to rapidly process it. It's something like being able to show the path and timing of a hurricane's landfall.

Weber said over the past 10 years, since the program was established by the Iowa Legislature, between $1.2 million-$1.5 million has been appropriated each year to pay for it all.

He said about $140 million of federal resources has been involved, too - about $40 million for the Iowa Flood Center - so including that federal grant funding probably brings the cost to about $4 million-5 million a year in total.

In terms of the state's $1.2 million-$1.5 million appropriations alone, that's about 50 cents per person in the state per year, Weber said.

Updating inundation maps for the whole state cost $15 million, he added.

It's not an insignificant amount of money, but it's already been over-topped by the preliminary costs of this year's floods on just some of Missouri's transportation infrastructure.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's Chris Engelbrecht, emergency management liaison, told the working group just the 75-day closure of a northwestern stretch of Interstate 29 alone cost about $103 million in added mileage and delay costs for traffic.

Seven ports have reported facility damage and economic losses, for a total of more than $180 million. Four airports' facility damage and economic losses have surpassed $16 million, and rail facilities, $40.5 million so far.

That's all in addition to $42.5 million in estimated damage so far to Missouri's state highways, Engelbrecht said - adding 283 damaged roads have been formally assessed for damage, out of 341 sites identified as damaged.

Recovery group member David Shorr, of the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River, said he hoped the net economic impact on agriculture from fields being inaccessible for a long time would also be assessed, which got some applause from the audience and thanks from Missouri Farm Bureau Federation's Dan Cassidy, chief administrative officer for the Bureau.

Cassidy added it would be nice to be able to quantify the number of acres affected.

Public comment at Thursday's flood recovery meeting included Jose Cruz, a farmer in Callaway County who's also the president of the Wainwright levee district.

Cruz said he hoped "improvements, not just repairs" can be made to levees - reasonable improvements so that when a levee is over-topped, the damage sustained won't be as severe as some of what's been seen.

Other comments included those from environmental groups, advocating for giving some land back to the Missouri River to reduce flooding and provide fish and wildlife habitat, cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change and its effects on rainfall, and holding urban and suburban development accountable to its effects on rivers.

Kayla Hahn, policy director for Parson's office, added the governor has met with R.D. James in Washington, D.C. - James is assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works - and Parson plans to hold a phone call with the governors of Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska in the next few weeks to hopefully finalize a plan to work together on flood-management strategies.

The flood recovery group's next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 22 at the Bennett Spring Conference Room, 1730 E. Elm St., in Jefferson City.

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