Iowa's Wild Weather | Episode
May 27, 2022 | 50 min

In this edition of Iowa’s Wild Weather, we examine some of the most catastrophic flooding events in Iowa’s history, the role that climate change may play in events, the science behind flooding that is unique to Iowa, and how victims of flooding  have restored their lives, renewed their communities, and maintained their respect for Iowa’s waterways.


(water rushing)

Our councilman came in and said, Cathy, you've got 20 minutes to evacuate City Hall, the water's coming. And I said, where are we going? He goes, that's what your 20 minutes is for.


I love where I live and I love my neighbors. I don't want to leave.

The emotional toll is really tough when you're in these towns and people absolutely lost everything that they acquired throughout their whole life.

In 2019, floodwaters inundated the Southwest Iowa town of Hamburg, submerging most of the town of just over 900 under 18 feet of water.

In 2011, Dubuque, Iowa was granted a presidential disaster declaration, the sixth one to be given in just over a decade.

In 2008, the city of Cedar Rapids was inundated by a record 31 feet of water when the Cedar River lefts its banks.

Catastrophic flooding events have written and rewritten Iowa's landscape. By some estimates, these recent events have been driven by climate change. But one thing has remained constant, the victims of flooding in Iowa have shown their resilience through how they have restored their lives and renewed their communities, all while maintaining their respect for Iowa's waterways.

Funding for this program was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation, as well as generations of families and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa PBS.

Funding for this program was provided by the Gilchrist Foundation, founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist, furthering the philanthropic interests of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, the arts and public broadcasting and disaster relief.

And by the Claude P. Small, Kathryn Small Cousins and William Carl Cousins Fund at the Quad Cities Community Foundation to support nature programming on Iowa PBS.

(water rushing)

Floods in Iowa are a common occurrence. Runoff from snowmelt, coupled with routine spring rains, can push the boundaries of rivers and streams to their limits and beyond. Many of these events come and go with limited damage or life interruptions.

But sometimes, the right weather conditions combine to produce epic flooding events that destroy large swaths of cities and towns, changing people's lives forever.

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The National Weather Service lists five particular flooding events as significant in Iowa's history.

Number one on that list, and top of mind for countless Iowans, is the Great Flood of 1993.

In the summer of that year, Iowa endured daily rains that didn't stop for 130 days. 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes as all 99 counties in Iowa received a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Officials with the National Weather Service believe the stage was set for the event in 1992 when an unusually cold, wet winter made for abundant soil moisture. By 1993, plentiful summer rains proved to be too much for the already saturated soil. The runoff caused already swollen rivers to flow into the surrounding countryside. The result was the destruction of 21,000 homes and the loss of one life. Damage estimates were more than $3 billion, a number that would strike $7 billion today.


In 2018, the same conditions can be found in Southwest Iowa setting the stage for some of the worst flooding in the region's history. Situated between the Missouri and Nishnabotna Rivers in Southwest Iowa, Hamburg has witnessed its fair share of high water events. But in 2019, the commercial hub of Fremont County, Iowa nearly had its existence washed off the map.

Cathy Crain: We had three days' warning and in those three days we evacuated as many people as we could. We informed the businesses. We did what preparation we could do because we knew it was going to be a massive amount of water. We didn't know at the time that it was going to be 18 foot of water coming at our small town.

Cathy Crain is the former Mayor of Hamburg. During her tenure, she guided her town through the recovery effort for both the 2011 and 2019 floods.

While most of the state was dealing with varying degrees of drought, the Southwest corner of Iowa received record amounts of rainfall. Throughout the winter of 2018, as rain changed to snow, moisture levels in the soil were more than the ground could handle.

Dr. Justin Glisan is the Climatologist for the State of Iowa.

Dr. Justin Glisan: So you put 2018, 2019 together, wettest two calendar years going back 149 years. So what that means, very wet subsoils, near capacity if not at capacity. You get any kind of rainfall on top of that, once it does thaw it's not going in the soil, it's going to run off.

February of 2019 recorded some of the coldest temperatures for that time of year. The ample autumn rain in the area that had been absorbed by the soil was now frozen solid.


On March 13, 2019, one of the lowest barometric pressure systems ever recorded moved from Colorado to Iowa. Known as a Bomb Cyclone, the storm system delivered torrents of rain into an already frozen landscape.

Dr. Justin Glisan: You get anywhere from two to three inches of rainfall on top of an existing snowpack of three to six inches, you're getting four to six inches of liquid equivalent moisture running off into the river systems. You look in the western part of the state, you had a transfusion of an epic amount of water into the Missouri Basin, let alone the amount of rainfall that was coming down from north of us.

On top of saturated soil and a Bomb Cyclone, Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River in South Dakota was nearing the point where its output was at the maximum for its spillway.

In Nebraska, a dam on the Niobrara River near Spencer failed and the situation went from bad to worse for communities down river.

Dr. Justin Glisan: So you had 11 feet of water coming down once the Spencer dam failed. Every corps levee south of Council Bluffs was either breached or destroyed.

By March 18, the stage was set for a disaster. Mayor Crain was in City Hall when, at 4:30 in the morning, an 18 foot wall of water was rushing towards Hamburg and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

Cathy Crain: I had a crew of people walk in here. Our councilman came in and said, Cathy, you've got 20 minutes to evacuate City Hall, the water's coming. And I said, where are we going? He said, that's what your 20 minutes is for. So, I call the school and we packed up what we could and we moved to the school. And we were there until we could come back to City Hall. And I can tell you, you can run a disaster with a cell phone and a laptop because that's what the city clerk and I did for days.

Hamburg and other towns along the Missouri River are not strangers to flooding and the residents often are able to recover from the usual inches of water with relative ease.

But the wall of water almost two stories high that was surging through their towns left people helpless as they watched their lives and their livelihoods wash down the river.

Zeb McFarland: The emotional toll is really tough when you're in these towns and people absolutely lost everything that they acquired throughout their whole life and it's all gone. And even some of these city workers lost a lot during the flood. And there's a lot of dedication with those city guys, they're out there working around the clock even though they lost and they had damage and they're trying to do the better good to help everybody instead of just trying to help themselves.

Zeb McFarland is a Circuit Rider for the western region of the Iowa Rural Water Association. McFarland is trained to assist communities in the restoration of water service during disasters.

Zeb McFarland: I would say a lot of the experience that I relied on was being a prior city operator, knowing how the treatment process works, how the disinfection process works, how water systems are laid out, potentially where is this valve underneath the water. It is very tough to find that stuff when it's under water.

(nature sounds)

He recalls how the entire Hamburg city staff, old and new members alike, fought the flood together searching for solutions to each problem as they came up. McFarland says the decision-making process under that kind of pressure was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack over and over again. One of those moments occurred when two city employees were trying to shut off fresh water to flooded homes on the south side of Hamburg.

Zeb McFarland: There was so much knowledge in all these city guys, and prior city guys, and in that situation where Wyatt and Trey was out in this waist deep water with a magnet trying to find this valve box, we had an old city guy that came out of his house and said, you know, it's over here, it's more over that way and they were able to find it and shut off the water.

In total, the floods of 2019 had a wide footprint across the Midwest and caused over $12 billion in damages between March 14th and March 31st. For Hamburg, the town spent a million dollars on the first day of the flood, money the town didn't have.

Cathy Crain: Now were broke, we had to, we needed money and that's what we started doing the very day of the flood. After we gathered our stuff up in City Hall and moved to the elementary school, I started raising money, private funds because I knew we were going to need probably $20 million to rebuild because of 18 foot of water. So far we've done $18.6 million and I've got another $20 to $25 million that I'm asking for.

The recovery process was slow going for Hamburg and surrounding communities. Flood waters refused to leave farm fields. Two more flood events occurred through the spring and summer of that year. Some farmers reported having standing water in their fields as late as September. The 2019 crop for many in the area was non-existent.

Cathy Crain: But I have to tell you, we first had to get over our tears because for us, it's still emotional, for us we lost so much. And people were losing their homes and their businesses, but we were losing our town. And we had to get over that and suck it up the best we could during the day. We could cry early in the morning, we could cry at night, but suck it up and use it and do everything we can to help rebuild the town.

2019 floodwaters took a lot from Hamburg. 73 homes were ruined. Only 6 of the city's 44 businesses were able to open the day of the flood.

(train whistle)

Located next to Interstate 29, as well as being situated along a major railroad line, Hamburg has become an attractive town for agricultural businesses like Manildra Milling Corporation, Bartlett Grain Company and Agrivision Equipment Group.

It's tough to recover from something like this, not only as a business --

Tim Maher is manager for Agrivision Equipment Group in Hamburg and says when the floodwaters destroyed most of the downtown businesses and inundated nearby farm fields, many of the area farmers found themselves in a different role.

Tim Maher: Some of them were able to take some of their equipment and actually help with some of the rebuild out on the levee. So they were able to go back out and put some of their equipment to work and get a little bit of income off of that. We had to change our business because we went from supporting farmers to supporting more of a construction-based business at that time and a lot of our same customers but they switched from being more farming economics to more of a construction-based business and it really changed the way that we did business on the day-to-day.

Maher's building was uninhabitable for six months after the flood. And he kept the operation running by renting buildings where he could find them. As recovery efforts began, many businesses found ways to cope with the cleanup.

Megan Benefiel: We had about eight inches of water throughout the store. We slope back so it was deeper in the front. But we had to take all of our inventory to our store in Tabor, Iowa, which is about 20 miles north of here and very safe from any flooding related to the Missouri River and we operated out of there for a little over two months. We were able to run daily deliveries down to Hamburg for people who were still located here and then mail out to anybody who was displaced.

Stoner Drug is a local pharmacy and retailer that has called Main Street home for over 125 years. Megan Benefiel, one of the newest pharmacists with the business, chose to return to Hamburg after graduation and work in her hometown because of its people.

Megan Benefiel: The thing about being from a small town like Hamburg is we might be small in numbers, there's not a lot of us, but the people who are here truly care about this place and truly care about what it means to be from here. The flood was hard. More people could have just chosen to leave and never come back. You can make a home anywhere with your family, that's not hard. But when the going got tough, we banded together, we took care of each other, we didn't just let it wipe us out like some people maybe think it should have.

When the floodwaters finally receded, the people of Hamburg began to rebuild. With help from numerous state, local and federal agencies, the town began to take on its former shape. But navigating the recovery process brought its own set of challenges.

Cathy Crain: Economic Development, Homeland Security, the Governor's Office, without them we would not be where we are now because we're just so little with no staff. And to have staff that knows what to do in a disaster, we've got that, but to have staff that knows what to do after it, hey I didn't even know what to do after it. You have to figure it out. That's what you have to do because every disaster is different.

The first step for rebuilding from the 2019 flood events was to stop the water from doing any more damage to the levees. The Army Corps of Engineers began work along the banks of the Missouri River with help from area residents.

John Askew: When you are a local landowner on any of the boards you have a little bit of skin the game which means it's not just I'm an elected official that represents not only myself but I represent all me neighbors here too. And with that --

John Askew is a farmer in Thurman, Iowa. He is also a trustee on the Boards of the Pleasant Valley Levee District and a trustee for the Missouri Valley Drainage District. Both districts cover 34,000 acres from Thurman to Hamburg.

John Askew: When we had the catastrophic event, we see the levees fall, our job before that was mostly just watching, maintaining, communicating with our local officials and communicating with the Army Corps of Engineers of how things were holding up. After that it is just  like getting a fire hose in the face. It's just boom, what do we do now?

A strong working relationship between the local levee sponsors, trustees and the Army Corps of Engineers was key to getting work started on levee repair.

Tod Tobias: So without the levee boards, the local levee districts, maintaining these to the core standards, the federal dollars can't come in and fix this. The sponsors have to give us all the materials to fix the levee. We provide the labor. They just have to say okay, here's the borrow source, go here and get it. And it's on them to work that deal out. The minute from there, I grab it, bring it down here and do what I need to do.

The Army Corps of Engineers needed thousands of yards of material to rebuild the levees. During the flood, the Missouri River deposited tons of sand on farm fields in the area. As a levee sponsor, Askew found a way to help the Army Corps of Engineers and his neighbors at the same time.

Tod Tobias: Through John's help getting easements, we got into farm fields, scraped the sand off, built our core and then we had to go find clay to cap it with. That was also John found us the clay. And so then we capped it with clay, put our rock on and we're good. So it actually ends up being a win-win for the farmers. One, they got their fields cleaned up of all the sand. And two, I put in the levee so it helped me.

As of June of 2020, 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt have been worked into the levee rebuilt just west of Thurman, Iowa along the Missouri River. The location of the new embankment, which had been closer to the river, was now 2 miles further away from the water. The move also restored wildlife habitat that had been lost to river development projects in prior years.

Tod Tobias: The habitat loss was huge. Now with the help of the NRCS, those kind of agencies, and Iowa DNR and then the federal CRP program is reestablishing a lot of this native habitat.

Some local residents argue, the larger area of wildlife habitat slows floodwaters from receding and holds it longer in the soil making the area prone to more flooding. Their belief is the levee should be as close to the river as possible so the water stays in the channel and moves away from the nearby towns and farm fields.

Rep. David Sieck: So those floods have become more intense because if the channel can't carry the water it goes between the levee and the river and then when you carry that much water out there it drops a lot of silt, so those areas are starting to silt in so you don't have the carrying capacity so you actually create bigger floods down the road. And so that is one of the reasons. And maybe we've had bigger events or, we've always had big events, but it seems like they're magnified because of the lack of carrying capacity.

Dave Sieck is a farmer and Representative for Iowa House District 23, which covers Mills, Fremont and portions of Montgomery Counties. Sieck sees a major hurdle in flood recovery with how the numerous independent levee districts along the river have to navigate emergency flood response with various federal agencies.

Rep. David Sieck: We have several levee and drainage districts from Council Bluffs south. But now the federal government is counting that all as one levee. So with it being one levee, every one of these has a board, every one of these has a taxing authority and every one of these has their own way of doing things. And what happens is when we do have a flood emergency, or what we've had happen here, FEMA has to come in and deal with every one of those entities separately. We need to consolidate them because if they do do a levee certification study or if they do need money, every entity has to go look for it. Like I said, the state government has to deal with it, the federal government has to deal with it, it's a lot of duplications. We're a very fortunate state. We have had navigable water on both sides of our state for over I think 160 years and we have that luxury and we should always try to take care of that because that is a method for us staying prosperous and being able to develop as a state.

(nature sounds)

Sieck also sits on the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board, which provided funding to recovery efforts in his district after the 2019 disaster.

Rep. David Sieck: I think the Flood Mitigation Board is an important thing for Iowa to have and maintain. And I think that the extra layer that they have added because of the flood of 2019 whereas the state can appropriate money to fix things or do cost shares that's not covered by the federal government, it's very important.

Because of the 2019 disasters, the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board was assigned expanded authority to approve money for long-term recovery projects. The board approve $400,000 for a study on the efficiency of levee districts along the Missouri River in Southwest Iowa.

Rep. David Sieck: Not many states have a handle on what we're talking about here with having so many varied types of levees and drainage systems under different people's control and somebody needs to get a handle on it as Iowa if we're going to prosper in the future so that we make sure that they're maintained and controlled because it will make it better for all of us.

The governmental agencies helping towns recover from flood events are employing new tools to speed up response times. The National Rural Water Association is developing a program to help with the effort.

Zeb McFarland: Whenever there is a disaster declaration done, they upload a program into our log system that they want us to fill out when we arrive on the scene. And then the big thing is assessment on money. What does that town need to get that water system or that wastewater system back going? And we upload this on the spot with GPS everything, we take live photos and this automatically gets sent to National Rural Water and then in turn gets sent to USDA and a lot of government officials so they can know within minutes of us arriving on scene of what's going on in that town and what are the major concerns pertaining to the water and drinking water side of things.

(nature sounds)

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig has had a front row seat to weather disasters across the state. He points out, helping farmers and families recover is one of the major roles taken on by the state, but the assistance is only part of the recovery equation.

Secretary Mike Naig: It is true that at some point you would say that well the federal government shouldn’t keep coming in and having to pay for this recovery and restoration of land and there are limitations. You can only use certain programs every so often and you can max out. And I think that's appropriate. But again, do they have the tools that they need and that all farmers need to be able to withstand weather events? Those are the things we should be thinking about.

(nature sounds)

At the end of the day, there are many who ask, why do people live in a place that continually floods? The answers vary.

Secretary Mike Naig: This is a challenging topic because I've spent a lot of time in areas that have had flood damage and one of the things that sticks with me is that these aren't families that just moved onto this land a few years ago, you're talking about generations of farm families that have farmed this land.

Zeb McFarland: It's something different when it takes away your home because that's your whole world. That is the bubble that you live in as your home, your property and yeah, it's terrible to lose and it's hard to lose.

John Askew: What I'm really appreciative of is that my family came here way over 100 years ago. They were able to deal with floods. They were able to deal with and grow crops here and build a family and build -- and I can do the same thing here too.

Rep. David Sieck: I've lived there my whole life. I've dealt with floods. I mean, I wasn't there for the '52 flood, my grandfather told me all about it and how high the water got. But I was there for every flood after that basically from when I was a kid. And so I've lived through a lot of them, every one of them is different, everybody will tell you that. But I advocated, I've been drug along the whole time and advocated for managing the river in a responsible way that we don't lose our land.

Megan Benefiel: I was born and raised here. I spent 18 years in the school system. I left for a little bit. I went to Lincoln for undergrad and then Omaha for pharmacy school and kind of divine intervention brought me back, but now I can't picture myself anywhere else.

Cathy Crain: It's devastating. But why do you stay? You stay because this is your home and you've got to stop and think what that word means to you. To me that word means my relative who was one of the people that founded this town and all of those relatives that I have known of that lived in this town and certainly all of my grandparents and my mother and father and my brothers. My brothers both are still in this town. It is home is family and we ain't moving.

As of 2022, Hamburg continues with its comeback. All 44 businesses in town have reopened and all of their employees have returned to work. Nine new businesses, including a hotel, coffee shop and a meat locker, have been added to the roster of businesses. Crain credits all the hard work by the people of Hamburg for rebuilding the town's economy. But she believes it's the town spirit that is the true currency in Hamburg.

Cathy Crain: They see progress and they're glad it has happened. We're still in pain from this flood happening because we are emotionally connected to the people in a very long way, a very old fashioned way where you really know them. You don't just kind of know them, I know your dog's name, I know your horse's name, I know your favorite car. We know people here.

Dubuque, Iowa rests between the Mississippi River and large bluff formations in the Driftless Region of Northeast Iowa.

Founded in 1875, Iowa's oldest city has endured numerous struggles with flooding. Managing respect for the river while promoting community growth and civic expansion have not always gone hand-in-hand.

Deron Muehring: So I think that the unique thing about Dubuque is maybe from other Iowa communities is we're on the river, we have bluffs, steep terrain and we have flash flooding.

From the start as a small river town, Dubuque has always had strong communities. Irish and German heritage runs deep along the steep streets. As the city flourished, the Bee Branch Creek on the north side of town of 60,000 was buried to allow for expansion of housing and industry.

The manmade changes to the landscape promoted flash flooding in some parts of town. In the Bee Branch Watershed, multiple years of flooding events began to take a toll on those living creekside.

Audrey Morey: When you'd hear the predictions of these heavy rains coming, you would worry and the anxiety that not just myself but my neighbors felt, not knowing what we were going to wake up to the next morning. How bad was it going to be? How devastating? Because we lived through some very devastating floods.

Morey is a lifelong resident of Dubuque. She has witnessed countless floods in the 40 years she has called the North End neighborhood her home.

Audrey Morey: I remember looking down somewhere around midnight or middle of the night and opening the door and looking down my stairway to the basement and all I could see was water, it was a sea of water. And the feeling of helplessness that you had no control, you couldn't prevent it. And while that story is devastating, it was not unique because so many of my neighbors lived with almost the same type of story that I lived with.

(rain falling)

The decades old solution continued to be a problem in the six square mile section inside the city limits. Unfortunately, Dubuque's answer to the frequent flooding of back yards and basements only offered a limited solution to the problem.

Senator Pam Jochum: It was only a six-inch rainfall, but the difference was the city had no real flood mitigation programs in place, no retention bases, none of those sorts of things. It was a six-inch rainfall and of course the city has developed more and more on the hillside, so guess what, you replace hillsides and all the natural vegetation with rooftops and driveways, water runs downhill.

(water rushing)

Millions of dollars in damage was becoming a major issue for North End residents. For them, it was more than just seeing flood ravaged houses and businesses every day, it was about facing the difficult decision of whether to stay or move away.

Audrey Morey: I love where I live and I love my neighbors. I don't want to leave. And the best you can hope for is that you will get some hope and relief sometime.

(rain falling)

After years of waiting, the residents along the Bee Branch received word the city was going to make changes that wouldn't just mitigate the problem, but bring it to a full stop.

Deron Muehring: If you live in these areas, you get four foot of water in your basement one year. So okay, I've got to miss work, I've got to pump my basement out, I don't know how I'm going to do that. Now I've got all this moldy stuff down there, I've got to get rid of it. Maybe my water heater and my electrical boxes were impacted and I've got to pay for those to get replaced. And then you work through that and it can be costly and then two years later it happens again, and then two years later it happens again. It's just not sustainable. I don't care who you are, you're not going to want to live through that multiple times and six times that happened in twelve years. And so that really leads, if we left and did nothing, you've got an area of our community that is just going to go by the wayside, it's just going to slowly but surely fall into disrepair and just not something you want in your community.

Deron Muehring is a civil engineer with the City of Dubuque and is in charge of the Bee Branch Restoration Project. Muehring notes, between 1999 and 2011, presidential disaster declarations were issued six times due to the amount of destruction from flood events in the Bee Branch Watershed.

Daron Muehring: These people who live in these areas, 1,300 properties or so, 1,300 families, they can't do anything by themselves. They might have spent their last, scraped together as much money as they could to buy their first home, buy their piece of the American dream and then to have it flood every other year and turn into a nightmare because they're trapped because they don't have the resources to either keep fixing their house or have the resources to move to a different house. So we really had to step into the community to look at the issue.

The city's first step was to get insight from the people whose homes were flooded. In 2003, a citizen advisory committee was formed to bring ideas and concerns to the engineers in charge of designing a flood mitigation project for Dubuque. Audrey Morey was one of its members.

Audrey Morey: And over the years that we met about how this was all going to end up, we heard a lot of encouragement from the city that this was not just going to be a waterway dug run through our neighborhood, which was a little worrisome for us for a while about the safety of water going through your neighborhood with children. And then what was it going to look like?

Deron Muehring: There was a lot of fear at the beginning because understanding what this could be, especially we bring up the idea of daylighting a creek or having an above ground sewer, people are like, well are you just going to have a sewer going through our neighborhoods? And so working through that process and so we got to a collective vision of what this could be, involving the citizens was very important.

A solution for Dubuque's chronic flash flooding had to solve problems on many fronts. Basements needed to be dry. Streets needed to be in good repair. Flood mitigation needed to last for decades. And the project had to be aesthetically pleasing. The committee proposed a plan to daylight, or unearth the Bee Branch Creek into an open waterway. In 2004, Dubuque City Council approved the Bee Branch Restoration Project. Before the heavy equipment could roll, the city needed to purchase properties along the creek to make room for what was to become the Bee Branch Basin. This was the city's opportunity to earn the trust of a skeptical neighborhood.

Senator Pam Jochum: I will say when we put in the Bee Branch Greenway, the city did right by the people who lived along that greenway. The project included buying out about 70 homes and a number of small businesses. And after that happened I talked to some of the residents whose homes the city bought and said, did you do well, did you do okay when you sold your home? And they responded, absolutely, the city of Dubuque actually probably paid me more for my home and helped me move to another location more so than if I had tried to just put my home on the market and sell it on my own.

With properties purchased and cleared, construction got underway in 2005. Local residents saw changes almost immediately.

Charles Harris: One of the biggest things that we noticed kind of right off the bat when they first started actually opening the trench up, it kind of helped to drop the water table in this area so there's more space even within the ground that is here to absorb more water than what we had before.

The Bee Branch Greenway works like a basin for floodwaters to collect in heavy rain events. By having the open waterway, rain water levels can rise and fall in the greenway without flooding the nearby streets and neighborhoods. When the waters recede, the area returns to being a linear green space.

Deron Muehring: Well, as engineers we try to think of everything, knowing we can't, but we still try. And so for example, watching it actually function the way we had drawn it up and how the calculations showed that it would function it's very satisfying and it's also very comforting that it's addressing the issue that it was supposed to, that it's doing it in a way that is environmentally friendly and safe to the neighbors that are around the areas.

Senator Pam Jochum: I walk up to the Bee Branch and I'll look out over it and it is working exactly as it was supposed to work. It was built for a 500 year flood and the whole Bee Branch Greenway you will see the water just rising like it's supposed to and filling up between the banks and it keeps -- every time I look I say, if this water wasn't here, it would be in our basements right now and we'd all be bailing water again.

Restoring the Bee Branch Watershed along with constructing accompanying amenities would span 14 years. The nearly $250 million price tag for the project came from a multitude of sources. The city partnered with federal, state and local agencies to help diversify costs. A large source of funding came from the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board, which was created by the Iowa Legislature in 2012 and signed into law by Governor Branstad. The board approved funding the Bee Branch Restoration Project through sales tax increments. Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids believes the legislation he led through the Iowa Legislature a decade ago is a lifeline for many Iowa communities facing situations like Dubuque.

Senator Rob Hogg: So I remember when Senator Jochum came to me with Dubuque's unique circumstances. And we just said, we will adjust the legislation and make it work for Dubuque. We made it work for people who cared about the environment. So we made sure that legislation addressed downstream effects and watershed management. We made sure it worked for the business community to say that we wanted to invest in places where there were going to be economic projects associated with it.

A particular must do from the Citizen Advisory Committee was on the appearance and functionality of the Bee Branch Basin.

Charles Harris: To me there's two aspects of this project. There is the flood mitigation aspect of it. And then there is the beautiful piece of property, park aspect of it. And this is what we get to see every day is this beautiful park and everything like that. But it's hiding a flood mitigation dam or wall, typically those things are not, they're not pretty and they're not easy to make nice. And this is a really nice amenity. I mean, it's a nice day out here today, people are using it, people are consuming it, people are being a part of it and that is the beauty of it is it is a useable amenity, it's not just something that's just there. It's not just a sewer, it's not just a storm drain, it's not just something basic.

Opening up the Bee Branch Creek and restoring the watershed laid the groundwork for development of a park with multiuse trails, an outdoor amphitheater and a playground. It also made it possible to start environmental projects like pollinator gardens, the planting of trees and the seeding of native prairie grasses.

Deron Muehring: This is a $240 million project and there's no one from the city who would have thought that we would have been able to put together the partnerships that we did with local, state and federal partners to really make it what it is today. And we couldn't have done it without their assistance, not only their technical assistance but their financial assistance, just teaming with them to make this a reality. So one of the things that I always look back on is a community, you can't look at it like oh that problem is too big, there's no way we'll be able to afford that, there's no way. But as you work through the process and work with project partners and work with the citizens it's incredible what a community even our size can accomplish.

Beyond the peace of mind generated by the project, after nearly two decades people living in the neighborhoods along the Bee Branch feel a renewed sense of pride in their community.

Audrey Morey: One of the conversations that I had with a neighbor, and this was a while after the completion of the Bee Branch Mitigation Project, and we were standing in our back yards talking and they were predicting heavy rains, high winds for that night. And he said to me, do you remember when we would be worried when we heard that prediction? And now we don't worry anymore.

(water rushing)

The distance between the end of a flood and complete recovery is often measured in years. The equation for how to approach the next Iowa flood is already being worked out.

Dr. Justin Glisan: So we talk infrastructure a lot with the dams built back last century are not built for this century given the increase in the amount of rainfall that we're seeing. You look at the Upper Midwest anywhere over the last 126 years, 10% to 15% increase plus in the amount of rainfall.

For Glisan there is no "if" in this equation, but a "when".

Dr. Justin Glisan: We're planning if things, if X, Y and Z happen, what can be done? What keeps me up at night are the possibilities of what the wet conditions will mean as we get into the middle of the century. I think the expectation is we're going to have more aerial flooding, we're going to have more flash flooding events.

Government officials at all levels are the ones who put in place for the plans for the response to natural disasters. An integral point in planning centers on mankind's role as both being part of the problem and part of the solution in future flood events.

Senator Rob Hogg: We've had 20 presidential disaster declarations in Iowa in the last 15 years. So that is more than one a year because of flooding. I'm not talking about other disasters, just talking about flooding. The reality is, is that large precipitation events in Iowa have increased about 40% over the last four or five decades and the scientists tell us that is because of climate change.

Senator Pam Jochum: We have an obligation as a government whether it is state or local or federal to make sure that we do right by the people. And if this whole Flood Mitigation Program and some of the things that we're attempting to do at least demonstrates that government really can do good work, it has an important role to play in people's lives in terms of safety and economics and all the rest of it.

Flooding takes a toll on more than just the landscape, the bricks and mortar of local buildings and the houses left in its wake.

It's the effect on the people that stay in those Iowa communities long after cleanup is complete.

Secretary Mike Naig: Go visit with somebody who stepped out their back door one day after a storm event or a flood event and saw everything that they had built, perhaps over their lifetime or certainly their career, wiped away or laying in a pile. And they often times don't know where to start. But again, it's something where I feel a responsibility and an opportunity as the Secretary of Ag but also as government being a partner in helping, helping folks to make that first step or how can they start to rebuild?

Cathy Crain: These experiences change you. You're different. You're a little bit harder. We try to keep our kindness, but we're harder now than we used to be.

Funding for this program was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation, as well as generations of families and friends who feel passionate about the programs they watch on Iowa PBS.

Funding for this program was provided by the Gilchrist Foundation, founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist, furthering the philanthropic interests of the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation, the arts and public broadcasting and disaster relief.

And by the Claude P. Small, Kathryn Small Cousins and William Carl Cousins Fund at the Quad Cities Community Foundation to support nature programming on Iowa PBS.