Humans love floodplains.

We always have and we always will. We love them for the abundance of freshwater they have provided since humans coalesced into towns, then cities.

We love them for the rich deposits of nutrients left behind by receding waters, leaving behind a thick, fluffy loam that’s easy to till. We love them for the nearby waterways for transportation and trade, and we love the miles and miles of floodplain flatlands, which is both easy to traverse and build on.

But we HATE flooding.

We should stop to consider why we stumble through these flooding emergencies. 

To start with, it’s our fault.  That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true, especially in northern Indiana.  Almost the entirety of northern Indiana is a giant floodplain, scrapped flat by the Lake Chicago glacier thousands of years ago.

Over time that flatland became thick marsh straddling a variety of waterways, but since settlers hacked the first homes from the wilderness over two centuries ago, that marshland was turned into farmland (Manifest Destiny and all that).

While human ingenuity can alter the purpose of a land’s geography, we can rarely change the geography itself. Result: flooding.  Marshlands that once soaked up the overflow of rivers has become flat grasslands or pavement. Overflow that once spread out only a few yards now spread out hundreds of yards.  Sewer and storm drain systems are no match either, even with millions of dollars in infrastructure engineering. Even the best sewer can’t match a few acres of spongy marsh and wetlands for soaking up a spill.

All this flooding seen in the last two weeks, from basements holding a foot of water to washed out roads, is a direct result of human shortsightedness and residential construction.  That’s not supposition or deduction.  To quote a wise man, “That’s the fact, Jack.”

All our efforts throughout the state to build cities, towns and roads to connect them essentially surrounded the waterways with acres and acres of Slip n’ Slides for the water to careen over. 

Many people haven’t figured this out and describe the deluge in extraordinary terms: a Hundred-Year Flood. Lately, I’ve heard this last bout referred to as a Five-Hundred-Year Flood.  It’s not.  Increased population density, rising construction, destruction of natural areas and an increase in precipitation will only make flooding more destructive and frequent. Soon, we’ll be having a Five-Hundred Year Flood every two or three years.  Or even every year.

Don’t believe me? Do a little research on the steadily rising cost of flood insurance.

Want to Know More? 

An excellent piece from the NYT on the rising costs of flood insurance and the mandated inclusion in some insurance policies.

Challenge your climate change-denying friends! Patiently explain to them that flooding is more frequent now than at any time in human history.  Proof is HERE, HERE and HERE.