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Mark W. Schwiebert

Mark W. Schwiebert

A topic in the Davenport mayoral election this year has been what to do about the recurring problems of flooding, particularly in the downtown area. This year’s three month long, record breaking flood, extending from spring into early summer, focused everyone’s attention on the need to come up with solutions that can protect the growing number of businesses and residents who choose to live in the downtown.

A range of alternatives have been discussed, from continuing to use the HESCO barriers used in recent years, to creating a series of removable flood panels, presumably on the north side of LeClaire Park adjacent to River Drive, similar to what Rock Island has in our riverfront park. In Rock Island, we’ve found these panels work very well. They allow easy access to the river during most of the year while allowing swift and effective protection of businesses and properties downtown when floodwaters rise.

And that will likely be more frequent and severe in the years ahead. The old concept of a "100-year flood" has collapsed, as such floods now occur every several years as the result of climate change.

Climate change can seem like an abstraction until its consequences hit home. The folks in Paradise, California, doubtless felt – as most of us do – that theirs was a pleasant and safe town, immune to the troubles we hear about on the evening news or the internet. Hurricanes in Puerto Rico or Haiti; droughts in the Sudan or Somalia; even tornadoes in Alabama can seem far away.

Then the ravaging Camp Fire swept down from the mountains to literally engulf and destroy the entire city of Paradise. Meanwhile, 40-inch rainfalls in the Houston area recently brought the country’s fourth largest city to a standstill; as Hurricane Katrina did even more severely in New Orleans several years ago.

Locally, increasingly frequent and severe floods — though less devastating to the entire area than these other disasters — remind us climate change is real and bearing down on us in ways that disrupt and change our lives. The clouds of CO2 and methane gas we produce daily; the mounds of plastic waste we discard to our landfills and oceans; the chemicals dumped into our groundwater, all have an effect.

An old commercial years ago warned: "Don’t mess with Mother Nature." Well, we have. And it is taking its toll in warmer air, dirtier water and more extreme weather conditions such as the increased rainfall and flooding we experienced this spring.

Our challenge, as the mayoral candidates in Davenport are confronting, will be to come up with creative and effective ways to deal with this new reality.

The good news is that such major challenges often bring forth new opportunities. After the Great Depression of 1929, our nation launched a wave of building projects and revitalization programs through the New Deal we still benefit from today. Before that, in the early 20th Century, awareness of the loss of our great open spaces through industrialization led to creation of the National Park System and a wave of state parks, that locally gave us Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island and Wild Cat Den State Park near Muscatine.

Climate change will create hardship, as downtown Davenport businesses this spring experienced. But it also gives us the opportunity to rethink how we do things, not only to limit the destructive effects of climate change but to create new jobs and infrastructure that can better our lives as we become better stewards of our environment.

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Mark Schwiebert, a former mayor of Rock Island, is a lawyer. Voices of the Quad-Cities, a weekly column featuring local writers, appears on Tuesdays.

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