Luther College faculty and students examine 2016 flood experiences in Freeport

July 19, 2019

Luther College faculty and students are closely examining how Freeport residents were affected by the 2016 floods in an effort to enhance flood resilience in the community.

On Tuesday, July 16, more than 60 people gathered at Freeport Park to hear from Rachel Brummel, assistant professor of environmental studies and political science and Jon Jensen, professor of philosophy and environmental studies. Brummel and Jensen worked alongside students to conduct the research that included 17 face to face interviews and a survey that was sent to 2,250 homes in the Iowa portion of the Upper Iowa River Watershed.

"I love living in Northeast Iowa and I find the most value in doing research that might contribute, even in a small way, to strengthening our communities and our environment," said Brummel.

The focus was on the most recent flooding event on Aug. 23, 2016 when 8-14 inches of rainwater fell in less than 24 hours. According to the team's research, in the Upper Iowa River Watershed, 40 percent of people indicated their home or property had been flooded in some way which caused a significant economic hardship for the region. Researchers say total damages to flood-affected households range from an estimated $15.8 million to $21.1 million.

"It's something you never want to go through again, I can tell you that. It was very emotional for us, losing a lot of memories you will never get back," said Debbie Aske, Freeport resident.

Aske was part of the study and says she is happy Luther College is doing this research. Her family woke up that August night to the sound of their basement wall caving in, allowing flood water to rush into their home.

"It was really scary, really, really scary, I have never seen water rise so fast," said Aske.

Her family was out of their home for six months as they worked to renovate the entire house.

Brummel and Jensen's team also looked into the emotional impacts of the flood event noting, it was significant and long lasting. Some interviewees still report having some form of PTSD.

"Every time there's heavy rains I am the one up at night with the flashlight looking at the front yard to see if the water is coming up," said Aske.

During the community meeting Tuesday night, residents were encouraged to voice concerns and opinions regarding the response to that flood event and how the community can reduce their vulnerability to future flooding. Representatives with the Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development, Winneshiek County Emergency Management, the Iowa Flood Center and Winneshiek County Supervisor, John Beard also provided statements.

This research is part of a broader initiative led by the Iowa Flood Center that seeks to enhance community flood resilience and increase flood mitigation projects state-wide. Flood mitigation and resilience work in this watershed are coordinated through the Upper Iowa Watershed Management Authority.

The full report is available here.