River Talk

In the Face of Recurring Floods, Iowans Expand Their Vision

Most of the forecasters are anticipating that 2011 will be a bad year for floods in the Upper Midwest.  NOAA has predicted that every river in Minnesota will flood, owing largely to the heavy snowpack, and all of that water will inevitably head downstream.

"Downstream" for much of the state's water is Iowa.  Iowa knows a thing or two about floods, having suffered disastrous flooding in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in 2008, and also severe summer flooding in the eastern part of the state in 2010.  Plus, of course, many Iowans remember the Flood of 1993, which closed Des Moines' water supply for weeks.

It is therefore welcome to see that Humanities Iowa, the statewide humanities public programming organization in the state, has taken up the issue of floods and what they mean to the people of the state.  The University of Iowa has a renowned Iowa Flood Center, which examines river mechanics, river restoration, and watershed management.

But the new effort, "Iowa's Flood Speakers" breaks new ground.  A series of experts in water resources, literary studies, philosophy, and religion have been made available to communities who would like to convene a public program or series on what rivers mean.  Does the recent spate of flooding indicate that our children may grow up afraid of rivers, after generations became accustomed to living alongside them?  What new narratives of our lives and our establishment of communities along water should we be crafting in a "new normal" of recurrent damaging floods?  Will we once again share TS Eliot's awareness of the river as "a great brown god/ Sullen, intractable"?

The program is described well in the most recent issue of Voices from the Prairie, produced by Humanities Iowa.  See also recommended reading about rivers, including an interesting and informative series on the possibility of "a new normal" published by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  

If rivers are in fact undergoing longterm changes, where are our "voices of the waters" that can help us make sense of these transformations?  Nominations welcome!

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.