(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," July 10, 2009)
When a tornado ripped through Iowa City's downtown and some historic neighborhoods in 2006, the devastation was large from a local perspective but relatively minor from a national perspective. The city received no federal reimbursement for its disaster cleanup efforts.
Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse is rightly concerned that a similar imbalance might occur if Ralston Creek ever floods to its so-called "100-year" or "500-year" level. Although many creekside homeowners would be devastated after such a flood -- especially those whose lenders did not require them to take out flood insurance -- the local disaster is unlikely to attract the same amount of federal assistance that poured into the area after last year's flood.
Plus the very nature of creek flooding would make it difficult for creekside homeowners to prepare. Because creeks are more susceptible to flash flooding caused by sudden downpours, homeowners probably wouldn't have time to sandbag or to otherwise secure their property.
That's why we agree with Fosse that homeowners who live in the Ralston Creek floodplain should get flood insurance for their property. Otherwise, they may face personal devastation as bad -- or possibly even worse -- than what uninsured residents of Parkview Terrace and Idyllwild have experienced for the past 13 months.
At the very least, we hope the flood of 2008 has put to rest the widespread mistaken notion that some people aren't eligible for flood insurance. Everyone is eligible, but not everyone is required.
Creekside homeowners, however, also need to recognize that they are as at-risk as riverside homeowners are. The same odds -- and same misleading chronological terminology -- apply to the so-called "100-year" and "500-year" floodplains of creeks as they do of rivers. Although detention basins constructed at Scott Park and Hickory Hill Park in the 1970s have reduced the risk of flooding along Ralston Creek, the risk of flooding has not gone away entirely.
Fosse said flooding along Ralston Creek in 1993 reached levels much less than a 100-year event, but he recommends homeowners to take appropriate precautions:
• Purchase flood insurance and
• Keep valuable items in safe places.
The city, likewise, is performing regular maintenance to ensure that the channels remain unobstructed and the basins don't fill with sediment.
"That's a true statement of any flood control works," Fosse said. "The flooding doesn't go away, it just becomes less frequent. ... We've got 30 years of good experience with the basins. But it is just 30 years."
There also is a flooding risk associated with Willow Creek on the city's west side. But Fosse said because residential development there is more recent, better stormwater drainage has reduced the risk.
Any local residents with questions as to whether their home is in the floodplain should:
• Contact their insurance company and find out what their risk is and how much their premiums would be;
• Visit the National Flood Insurance Program Web site at www.floodsmart.gov.; or
• Come down to the Public Works Department or the Housing and Inspection Departments at 415 E. Washington St. and look through the detailed floodplain maps.
No one -- especially homeowners and city officials -- should fool themselves into thinking that the local structures built in floodplains are completely safe.