The following editorial ran in the Aug. 20 La Crosse Tribune:
Our region learned many lessons that our region has learned from the deadly flash flooding on 2007 – and the subsequent flooding that has taken more lives and damaged more property.
Sadly, there are too many lessons yet to learn – especially when it comes to making the difficult choices about investing in infrastructure and paying attention to the impact of climate change.
Our ongoing series of stories and historic photos looking back at the flash floods a decade ago provides a good reminder of how far behind we are at fixing long-term problems with roads, bridges and other infrastructure, including dams and flood control.
That lack of foresight is especially exasperating as the Wisconsin Legislature continues to dither about long-overdue repairs to roads.
The notion of a 100-year flood has become laughable; they’re happening every other year it seems.
Since 2007, our region has had eight huge rainstorms that have killed 11 people and caused more than $1 billion in property damage.
It’s clear we need to be quicker at redrawing flood maps.
We need to be more willing to invest in the road and bridge needs of tomorrow.
We need to be more willing to make tough choices in places such as Gays Mills, which moved roughly half the town out of the floodplain instead of having to constantly replace waterlogged homes and possessions.
Our aging storm-sewer systems aren’t built for the types of rains we’re enduring – and will continue to endure, according to climate experts.
Rick Larkin worked on flood relief after the 2007 flood in Winona County and is now president of the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers.
As he told La Crosse Tribune reporter Chris Hubbuch: “We’re seeing flooding in places that have never flooded before. Our infrastructure across the country is stressed already, and now we’re looking at this increasing number of mega-rain events and saying that infrastructure is not capable of handling it.”
Urban sprawl, row crops and increasingly intense storms are not a good mix when it comes to handling runoff, and there’s plenty of work yet to accomplish in order to plan and protect for future storms.
But, let’s also remember the best lesson from these storms – we’re caring, resilient people.
We saw that in 2007 when Beth Forkner Moe was honored for leading flood relief in southeast Minnesota.
We saw it in September when members of the De Soto football team — with their field unusable because of mud left behind from another deluge — pitched in to help clean up their community.
There are so many stories of heroism and volunteerism; so many people who have done exemplary work for others.
Living in bluff country brings beauty; it also brings challenges.
But hoping that the trend of so many heavy rainstorms is just an aberration is ridiculous.
It’s ridiculous to believe that our recent trend of mega-storms is merely a run of bad luck. In fact, it’s our new normal.
Ignoring that is irresponsible. Preparing for it is the prudent approach.