Guest Commentary

Floods raise question if this is the new normal

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois
By DICK DURBIN, U.S. senator, D-Illinois
Posted: Jun. 23, 2019 12:01 am

The flour mill in Alton, Ill., has a thick red line painted across it. It represents the height of the worst flooding Alton experienced, in 1993 when the Mississippi River crested somewhere above 45 feet.

I remember traveling to Alton after that flood to place sandbags near the levees. The damage was devastating and historic.

Illinois has seen its fair share of floods, but the one I witnessed this month was different. The river gauge was at 39 feet, quickly approaching that red line again.

I learned that what makes this flood different from the one in 1993 is the duration. You'd have to go back to 1927 to see flooding of this duration in Illinois -- eight years short of a century ago.

When I spoke to the mayor, I asked him whether this type of event just comes and goes, and he said this one seems like it will never go, and that there have been six floods in the last 10 years.

The Illinois state climatologist in 2018 said that our state is 10 percent wetter than the last century and is experiencing more off-season, extreme rain events.

We have to ask ourselves the obvious questions: Is this just a one-off event, or is this the new normal? And if these extreme weather events are now the new normal, are we prepared for it?

There is no doubt in my mind that these extreme weather events -- heavy snowfall, long bouts of arctic cold, hotter summers and frequent severe flooding -- are now the new normal. This is a clear indicator of climate change.

Once these floodwaters recede, there will be damage to families' homes, businesses, farmland, and other property. A lot of work will be involved to clean up and help Illinoisans recover.

I know Gov. J.B. Pritzker is prepared to help with that effort -- and I stand ready, with the Illinois Congressional delegation, to do everything we can in Washington to assist him.

But, we have another responsibility in Washington: passing on a livable planet to our kids and grandkids. We should look to fund projects that can repair levees sorely taxed by these floods, and to build resilient infrastructure that can endure extreme weather events.

I've also introduced a bill that would set up a World War II war bonds system to help communities build climate resilience projects at local and state levels.

These "climate bonds" could be purchased by any American to contribute to the government's efforts to protect Americans against the devastating effects of climate change.

There are a lot of ideas on the table that are worth considering. It's time for all lawmakers in the Senate to recognize the reality of this challenge and bring bills to the floor that address it. The people in the Midwest, and all across the country, who are in the face of increasingly extreme weather depend on it.

There were countless men, women and families in Alton who volunteered and rolled up their sleeves to fill sandbags and help their neighbors. It's not just a Midwestern thing, but it is a Midwestern thing.

In this time of need, with this kind of flooding damage in Alton and all across our state, it does my heart proud to see folks again responding to this call.

When it comes to disasters like these, politics shouldn't matter. Illinoisans care about their homes, their businesses and their schools that are flooded once again. When will Washington finally care?