Midwest Towns Move to Avoid Flooding from Climate Change


When the wild rice pollinates just like any
other kind of flowering plant, it smells so fresh and so from the Earth. That’s what reminds me of home. That smell. I could just smell the rice growing and coming
up out of the water. I travelled everywhere in this United States,
and of all the places, this is the place I would rather be, than anywhere. Anywhere. Small town America. Just like a lot of other little towns across
the country. It’s that type of town. Population of 900. You had to wave at everybody because you knew
everybody. So it was a very, very nice little small town. Hundred of families now face the very real
possibility of losing their homes. The true impact of the levy break wouldn’t
be known until sunrise. We’ve watched the silos go, we’ve watched
the barn go, we’ve watched a shed go, and now the house itself has been lifted off the
foundation by these flood waters it’s just unbelievable. We’ve had this fourth of July celebration
for the past four decades. It was always through Main Street of the old
town here and we still had freight and it’s kind of funny because a lot people sit where
they used to always sit, before the flood, in front of either their house or friends’
homes. And it’s just hard to, how you say, let
go. Valmeyer was catastrophically flooded, up
to the third floor in some cases, after the great midwestern flood of 1993. Its levy broke and a wall of water came in. And in the aftermath Valmeyer decided ‘never
again.’ And it built an all new town up about 300
feet higher on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, but not threatened by that
river. We looked at several locations for the relocation. We didn’t want to go too far from where
the original town was. If we didn’t keep it close to the old town
and keep the identity and keep some of the things, traditions, and activities and things
of the original town area, I don’t think we would have gotten participation from as
many of our residents as we did. Yeah so we have five structures mapped right
here and obviously there’s only two houses. So we’re going to tag this We’re looking at about a dozen US towns. These are mostly small, rural, floodplain
towns that have addressed flood risk through drastic action. What we do is we actually quantify the move:
How many structures, what type of structures are left on the floodplain, how many have
moved. We’ll use that data to model how much flood
damage has been averted and try to quantify the success rather than just judging from
anecdotal reports. All of these communities that have moved are
different and that’s part of the spectrum that we’re trying to flesh out. What you see, if we turn this way, but right
here, is one of the most ancient ruins over there, and that’s where the main village
was at right here. Valmeyer and Odanah are clearly different. Valmeyer proudly promotes its move as a big
success, as part of its new heritage, if you will. Odanah is the exact opposite. In terms of number of structures no longer
on the floodplain, which is how FEMA would measure it, it’s a near total success. However, you talk to at least some of the
residents and they’ll tell you a different story. 50 years ago, there was this post office here,
gas station and houses all along here. Houses all along here. Houses over here, and all through the old
town here. 50 years ago. Now it’s all gone because somebody said
we shouldn’t live where we had been living for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of
years. I want to move back down there. I want to stay alongside the river. You see that is our heritage. That’s why we live to stay close to that
water, because that’s a part of our medicine what we have, is in by that water. I’ll move back to it right now. I don’t care about the flood. We can always fight the flood. It just lasts us a couple of days. It doesn’t last a lifetime. But just living alongside that water, that’s
what I’d rather have. Clearly the town of Odanah, the Chippewa tribe,
has a whole history that’s very different than other relocation communities. The reality is Odanah is more of a mixed success. Success to FEMA. But we got at least some strong sentiments
within the town that they do not see this as a uniform positive. The story tells itself. It’s not for us to tell the story of Odanah,
it’s for Odanah’s people to tell that story. Managed retreat is on the lips of a lot of
politicians. Some where between three and perhaps even
seven hundred communities across the US may be at threat of serious and repeated inundation
within the next hundred years. And here are the lessons of how to guide that. There are successful and even unsuccessful
relocation efforts in the past. We need to learn from each of those and not
fund things from scratch every time they become pressing. We need to look at the full tool kit, the
full spectrum of solutions available to it.

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