Iowa Field Work

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The floods in the Midwest seem to be covered mainly as weather porn, despite the enormous personal costs that have come with it. Forty thousand have been displaced in Iowa and other states — and the floods aren’t even over yet. For those keeping score, that’s about half a Katrina, in terms of people who have suddenly found themselves robbed of their possessions and their homes. (And let’s not forget the displaced non-people.) The good news is that FEMA appears to be handling this with exponentially more competence than Katrina, though I suppose that nothing times nothing is technically zero. The bad news is that the damaged homes and businesses in the Midwest could reverberate far beyond the region, in a much more personally tangible way than Katrina did. You’ve heard food prices are high? They’re about to get higher. Officials estimate that the floods ruined crops worth almost $3 billion dollars, including 20 percent of Iowa’s soybean crop and 10 percent of its corn.

Today’s Washington Post reports that some scientists think that this unprecedented flooding might be the result of how humans have “re-engineered” the landscape.

Plowed fields have replaced tallgrass prairies. Fields have been meticulously drained with underground pipes. Streams and creeks have been straightened. Most of the wetlands are gone. Flood plains have been filled and developed.

Says one University of Northern Iowa professor: “We’ve done numerous things to the landscape that took away these water-absorbing functions.”

On the plus side? It’s not like those wetlands and whatnot were pretty.

UPDATE: Full disclosure: My husband is from Davenport and my best friend hails from Cedar Rapids. Her family is lucky enough to live on a hill.