June 15, 2008

Floods will continue to be a problem this week as water moves down the Mississippi. Some towns in Missouri, for example, are preparing to see the Mississippi River crest 12 feet above flood stage. Hannibal, Mo., is expecting record floods.

Watch the floodwater’s course as it moves south to St. Louis and Memphis. Right now, St. Louis does not expect as much trouble as cities to the north. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday:

While the Mississippi threatens towns to the north, experts say they don’t expect floodwater to reach the record levels of 1993 in the St. Louis area because the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi above St. Louis, is not as high.

“The Missouri is in flood right now, but it’s considerably lower than it was in ’93, so you don’t have that increased flow coming into the Mississippi,” said Ben Miller of the National Weather Service. “The rainfall has not been the same on the Missouri basin so far this spring.”

Flood Maps
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service has a constantly-updated national flood map. Of the 3,789 gauges NOAA (and the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service) uses to monitor waterways nationwide, 173 were in flood conditions Sunday afternoon. Here are all of the Iowa monitors.

Flood Fatalities
USA Today says about 60 percent of all flood fatalities involve people being swept away in vehicles. A car or truck can be swept away by as little as 6 inches of water. USA Today points out:

  • Fresh water moving at only 4 mph, a brisk walking pace, exerts a force of about 66 pounds on each square foot of anything it encounters;
  • Double the water speed to 8 mph and the force zooms to about 264 pounds per square foot. That’s enough force to punch a car or light truck off a flooded road if the water’s up to door level. Imagine what it would do to a person!

The other common cause of death from floods is walking in or near flood waters. Additional causes include burns, electrocution and carbon monoxide poisoning. Note that these causes do not necessarily relate to the fatalities from Hurricane Katrina, many of which were caused by people being trapped in their homes. This does not happen as often with floods.

The research book “Flood Hazards and Health: Responding to Present and Future Risks” points out that flooding is the leading cause of death among weather disasters in the United States.

Here are some statistics about
the worst floods throughout the last century.

Sewage Bypass: Untreated Sewage Goes Straight into Rivers
The Des Moines Register reports that in recent weeks Iowa cities have had dozens of sewage bypasses that have worsened due to severe rainfall. To avoid sending sewage into basements during heavy rainfall, sewage treatment plans send untreated sewage into rivers. 

The Register story says the city of Waterloo, Iowa, has bypassed sewage nearly every day since April 11.

Investigate Bypass Discharges Locally
Click here to find out about discharges in any city or county. You don’t need to know permit numbers. Just type in the name of the city and or county and you will see all of the permits going back to 2002.

Cities Cannot Handle Flood Capacity
Recently, the Gannett News Service pointed out how overwhelmed many city water treatment facilities are:

At least one-third of the nation’s large, publicly owned sewage treatment systems have been penalized by the EPA or state regulators for sewage spills or other violations. The penalties included fines as well as orders to fix problems or expand treatment capacity.

The story continues:

  • Cities with the largest fines included San Diego ($6.2 million), New York City ($3 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million), and Pittsburgh ($1.2 million).
  • States where sewer systems paid the largest amounts in fines, both federal and state, were: California ($7.8 million), Tennessee ($3.4 million), New York ($3 million), Kentucky ($2.9 million), Maryland ($2 million), Florida ($1.5 million), Pennsylvania ($1.4 million), Indiana ($1.4 million), North Carolina ($1.2 million), and Oklahoma ($1.1 million).:
  • Flood Cleanup Tips
    Iowa State University provides some helpful information, such as tips about using electrical equipment after it has been flooded.

    From the Center for Healthy Housing [PDF]: “Creating a Healthy Home: A Field Guide for Clean-up of Flooded Homes”

    From the American Red Cross [PDF]: “Repairing Your Flooded Home”

    From the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF]: “Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems”

    From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Flood cleanup page

    Additional Resources from the CDC:

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides information about the National Flood Insurance Program.

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