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Iowa lawmakers eye response to widespread flooding

DES MOINES — A week after a “bomb cyclone” triggered major flooding across Iowa, lawmakers say they will follow Gov. Kim Reynolds’ lead in responding to what is expected to be more than $1 billion in damage to communities, farms, businesses and infrastructure.

“I am looking forward to sitting down with the governor and talking through that,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Thursday. “She’s been out assessing this really effectively, I think, and understanding what’s going on.”

“Right now, the governor is on the ground evaluating the situation and we expect to work with her as she comes back to figure out what any appropriate or necessary legislative response is.” added Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

Floodwaters have inundated a large swath of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river, prompting more than half of Iowa’s counties to be declared states of disaster. The flooding has killed at least four people and untold numbers of livestock, destroyed corn and soybeans in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa has suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farm land are under water.

Reynolds toured the devastation Sunday and Monday, and again Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence. She said the flooding “looked like an ocean” and since has declared 52 of Iowa’s 99 counties disaster areas, which opens state funding sources.

However, a key lawmaker in the Legislature’s response to 2008 flooding thinks the response this time is slow.

“I’m all ears waiting to hear what Gov. Reynolds and legislators are going to do in response to this flood,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who chaired the Senate Rebuild Iowa Committee. “We need a major response to this. I haven’t heard anything about how we are going to address this problem.”

The state and the Legislature have options, Upmeyer said, and they all will be considered. She doesn’t know if it is necessary to revive the Rebuild Iowa Committee because many of the resources lawmakers created then remain available. They could include tapping the economic emergency fund, Upmeyer said.

“This genuinely, in my opinion, does classify as an emergency, so if we need to access those resources we could,” she said.

Whitver said he’s getting constant updates from southwest Iowa senators on the situations in their districts.

“It is a tough situation, a dire situation in southwest Iowa,” he said. “They’re sharing stories about how bad it is down there and bringing forward thoughts on what we can do.”

The response may require adjustments to the state budget, but Upmeyer said it’s too soon to know whether that would affect the current budget, which ends June 30, or the budget lawmakers are preparing for fiscal 2020.

Upmeyer, who is concerned this is not the last flooding the state will experience this spring, senses some Iowans are “flood weary.”

After one flood, she said, people tend to be willing to rebuild. But after another they’re less likely to stay.

“It’s hard to keep people energized and I worry that people will, you know, leave,” Upmeyer said.