Q&A: 2019 Floods

Q: What’s the forecast for flood damages and recovery in Iowa?

A: Throughout my years representing Iowans, natural disasters have tested the grit and resilience of people across our great state. It’s never easy and it’s always heart-breaking, especially when lives are lost. Following an especially harsh winter season, the spring thaw is unleashing widespread flooding throughout the state. Breached levees and overflowing tributaries have swallowed up tens of thousands of acres of farmland, gushed across railways and roadways, swamping entire communities in Southwest Iowa and elsewhere. The breadth of the devastation and catastrophic financial losses from severe weather that began in mid-March won’t be known for some time. We do know it’s going to get even worse. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, historic flooding may continue through May and pose unprecedented reach across the United States, putting more than 200 million people at risk for flooding. Here in Iowa, more than half of the state’s 99 counties are included in Governor Reynold’s request for federal disaster assistance. The governor’s request for federal disaster declaration estimates $1.6 billion in flood damages across the state. I’ve called upon President Trump to expedite the request. A presidential disaster declaration will trigger federal emergency relief to flood victims, including FEMA, IRS, USDA, the Small Business Administration and other federal programs. I’ll also push for the IRS to extend relief to taxpayers affected by the disaster, including extensions for tax-filing deadlines and quarterly estimated tax payments and abatements from incurring penalties and late fees. The massive recovery will be prolonged and come with a hefty price tag. Damages from the 1993 flood neared $15 billion and killed 50 people, according to federal data. In addition to my conversations so far with the heads of FEMA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, I will work closely with Midwestern lawmakers to deliver a unified message from America’s heartland and get federal assistance flowing into affected communities. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ve introduced legislation to provide tax relief measures to help affected flood victims, farmers, homeowners, and small businesses recover, which I will work to expand to the most recent disasters in Iowa. I’ll also push ahead with reforms to Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection for family farmers that I have been developing as former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Constituent specialists in my six state offices are available to help cut red tape for individual Iowans and we are working closely with local emergency coordinators, city leaders and state officials to expedite emergency relief to help individuals and communities get back on their feet.

Q: What concerns do you have with the Army Corps of Engineers?

A: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency within the Department of Defense. Since the nation’s founding, the Corps of Engineers helped pave the development of the frontier by surveying roads and constructing canals and coastal fortifications. Throughout the 20th century, the Corps became the lead flood control agency, constructing locks, dams and levees and serving as a public works resource for the military and civil construction. The mission of the Corps is to “deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.” As with any federal agency, I conduct congressional oversight to hold the bureaucracy accountable. Since 2004, when the Master Manual of the Missouri River was changed in response to lawsuits and other government actions, we have seen repeated flooding events in Iowa and throughout the region.

For many years, several of my colleagues and I have urged the Corps to make flood control the number one priority on the Missouri River. Protection of life and personal property should take precedence over recreation and experiments that may or may not help endangered species and the other five functions identified in the Master Manual. In fact, last year a federal claims judge ruled in a mass action lawsuit of 372 plaintiffs from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas that the Corps’ changes to the river “had the effect of raising the Missouri River surface elevations in periods of high flows.” The court found that since 2007, the flooding has been among the worst in the history of the river and that the Corps’ changes in the management of the river caused or contributed to the flooding. I will continue to press the Corps to do everything it can to enhance flood warnings and reduce the possibility of flooding while I work with lawmakers in Congress to enact changes. It seems to me that misguided decisions and misplaced priorities have eclipsed common sense. A little more Midwestern common sense might have protected local communities, millions of bushels of grain and tens of thousands of acres of farmland. The number one priority needs to be flood protection.