Thursday, June 12, 2008

Global Warming. Local Floods.

Last weekend there was flooding to the north, south, east and west of us. One little town, Gays Mills, said it may never recover, as it was completely flooded last August as well. Sadly, to the west of here are many little farms who are trying to practice either sustainable or organic farming. Last year many were wiped out. And organic farmers don't get much insurance money for a failed crop because they don't have as much invested in their resources like genetically modified seed that needs to be repurchased every year, nor in the massive amounts of petroleum based fertilizers our mono-culture corn farmers need. I don't know what's going to happen to the farmers who managed to hang on to this year.

Last year as fires raged out west, a blogger that I read regularly commented that in many of those areas where the fires were destroying homes, the people had no business building there. Often, those areas have been repeatedly ravaged by fires, and developers go in and build and damn the consequences. Except that we all pay higher premiums to cover them.

The news of the past few days showed a very nice young man and his family after their $500,000 dollar home was washed away when the man-made Lake Delton carved a new outlet to the Wisconsin River. He laments that he had no flood insurance.

I don't know his personal situation that well, and he has my sympathy, but there are a few things that ought to be said.

Anyone can buy flood insurance. He said on television that he couldn't because FEMA and his town hadn't come to an agreement on the flood level in his area. If his property were deemed high risk, insurance would be mandatory. His mortgage lender would be legally bound to require it. This man could have estimated that his location between a river that runs through 2/3's of Wisconsin and a man-made lake that's only eight feet deep, might mean he should pick up the insurance. He could have opted to, though it wasn't required.

The other thing is that Lake Delton is a very desirable recreational lake. It has been over-developed for the last thirty years at least, due to its being really close to Milwaukee and Madison. This house was built in 2003 which leads me to believe that for a long, long time it was recognized that the property he built his house on was not stable. I admit to this being a guess, and would gladly claim to be wrong if I am.

It does seem in very many lake communities that regulations are for the poor and people without influence. I've been awestruck by new construction on other lakes that comes far too close to the water's edge, or landscaping that allows for run-off into the lake or riverfront. We do need government. We do need a community to recognize that some things are a bad idea and ought not to be allowed. Otherwise, if every man is for himself please do not cry to me when your house floats away. Laissez-faire is a harsh reality.


Fran said...

What a great post.

There is so much of this that is symptomatic of people's need to control all things - including nature.

There are certain places that at this point are clearly going to have potential issues.

I heard that guy too- the one with the half-mill house. I am sorry for their losses but I am sorrier for the farmers that you mention or just people who have lived in or near such places for a long time.

They have lost much more.

It is just sad all the way around. We have overdeveloped a lot due to people with money to burn and that has been at the cost and detriment of people and the environment.

All of which impacts us all.

Deep sigh.

dguzman said...

Great post. I too feel sorry for the people who lost their "dream homes" and had no insurance, but as a homeowner I've learned that either you get insurance (whether it's "required" or not) or you suck it up and deal when bad things happen. Given our screwed-up weather, those bad things are going to happen more and more often, I fear.

I sure hope those small farmers near you can somehow come back from this. And I'm glad you're okay, Jess!

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Unconventional Conventionist said...

Here in the ROckies, we have the same problem but with fire, not water.

All these people build in the forests, and now with global warming there are more pine-beetles than ever. There are 2 ways of getting rid of them; 5 consecutive zero degree high temp days, or fire. Yep, no zero degree days for quite some time up in Summit County and you can literally see bunches of houses amongst the dead and highly flammable pines. One day it's going to go up, and they won't be able to control it, and the losses will be catastrophic.

All due to poor foresight on both short and long terms.

Anonymous said...

The loss is tragic for the farmers if they can't pull out of it. For the homeowner, it's a personal tragedy. With the midwest getting hit so hard, this is going to affect all of us because there's a lot of farmland that won't produce this year.

This is the kind of topic I especially find entertaining with the anti-regulation crowd. They always want to privatize the gain (or profit) and social the risk. Same for this kind of situation. The guy in the expensive home didn't want to pay for insurance, but now he'll likely expect "help" supported by taxpayers.

Suzy said...

Jess, your post expresses much of what I have been thinking (and ranting about) this week. I too am gravely concerned about the farms in Vernon and Crawford Counties. Last summer many consumers gave what they could in donations to help those farmers. (The little people always seem to come through generously, it seems.) I don't know if that will be enough this time.

This evening I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio, where callers were discussing the role of wetlands in preventing flooding such as that we are currently experiencing. Of course, developers are gobbling up wetlands as fast as they can throw up their half mil houses. The entire east side of Madison is built on wetlands. Is it any wonder we have wet basements?

This is an excellent post.

Dr. Zaius said...

It seems like there are more disasters this year than ever before. Every time I turn on the news there is another flood or forest fire. It's almost like there is some underlying reason that these things are happening, some common thread to these events... something that a politician, say a former vice president, could explain in a PowerPoint demonstration or something...

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