What the Army Corps of Engineers DID NOT Learn from the 1993 Floods

June 14, 2008 - 2:11 PM

In 1993, record smashing floods ravaged the state of Iowa much like they are this week. Although the floods happening right now are far worse than 1993, no one had ever seen or heard of a flood event of the magnitude that happened in '93. The floods of '93 caused wide spread damage to homes and businesses and were burned into the minds of every person that experienced them that year. After the floods, an joint enquiry was held between Iowa City, The City of Coralville, and the Army Corps of Engineers to determine if there was any way to more optimally regulate the outflow from the Coralville Reservoir and Dam that holds back the Iowa River north of Iowa City and Coralville.

In 1997, after several years of beurocratic meetings, the Corps of Engineers determined, suprisingly, that "There is no Federal interest in a study of the optimal regulation of the reservoir." The Corps was unwilling to hear any public input regarding this decision and ceased any efforts on developing a written contingency plan for lake operation in the event of a flash flood.

In spite of the firm decision handed down to the public by the Corps of Engineers, Larry Molnar and Charles Newsome wrote a review of some of the major procedural and technical flaws of the Corp's decision. In their report, Larry and Charles suggest that the Corps was ignoring an opportunity to take some factors into account when optimizing the regulation of the reservoir. Among other things, Larry and Charles mention a potential long-term climate shift that was not a consideration in the original design of the reservoir and dam. This reference to Global Warming, would most likely be well received today, but in 1997, it was dismissed without further discussion. This report was forwarded on to the Corps of Engineers in 1997 and I can find no record of any response to it from the Corps.

Leading up to this event, I watched the Corps of Engineers restrict the outflow of the Coralville Dam to well below capacity for weeks, while at the same time hearing others warn of an impending flood event. I am not an expert in hydrological events, and I am struggling to understand the theory behind the reservoir management protocols. I suspect that there is more to the story than meets the eye. I'm confident that the Corps of Engineers has followed protocols in this event and is not to blame for the flood occurring today. I wonder if it would have been possible for anyone to construct a new reservoir management protocol that could have protected us from this event.