PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Weather extremes call
for changes of some kind
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 10:59 AM
Attempts to control nature have had some success on a limited scale. For example, Rochester has modified the environment around Silver Lake to control geese and brought in a company to drive away crows that had overtaken downtown.
The Minnesota Department of Resources has also had some success controlling populations of game animals and fish through hunting or fishing season adjustments and habitat improvements.
However, it gets trickier when there are more global threats to populations, presumed to be the case for honeybees or moose, that aren't understood. Even in cases where the threat is known, such as emerald ash borer, the solution is to try to slow, not stop, progress.
Our natural world is complex, with infinite connections that mean slight variations can have powerful consequences that we don't always understand. Humans may attempt to alter the environment, but often there are unintended consequences.
Most scientists feel that humans have unintentionally altered our climate, leading to extreme variations in weather. Recent events locally seem to confirm that our climate is changing, even if no single local weather event can prove global climate change. Still, extremes in weather are a trend that point to this global phenomenon.
The recent rains, up to 12 inches in just a few days, has led to massive damage in the area. As of Sunday, Houston County officials had estimated $2 million with the price tag continuing to climb.
This isn't the first time unusual weather has caused damage in southeastern Minnesota. In the past, flooding was often the result of spring melt, but lately it has been due to massive rainfall at one time. Rushford in 2007 and Pine Island/Oronoco in 2010 are two of the most damaging floods in recent years, both due to massive rainfall at one time.
Last year, it wasn't rain, but lack of rain, that caused problems. Although our area escaped the brunt of the drought, the Midwest was devastated.
Other parts of the country have had wild fires, mud slides, hurricanes in new locations and all sorts of weather disasters over the past few years.
In 2011, a record 14 weather disasters - 11 of them in the Midwest - occurred in the United States, sustaining more than $1 billion each in economic losses for a total of $60.6 billion. Last year, there were 11 weather disasters costing $1 billion or more. The insurance industry estimates that losses from 2012 natural disasters will total $58 billion, more than double the average yearly payout from 2000 to 2011.
Extreme weather has the potential to threaten our wellbeing and safety in Minnesota, yet the question is what can we do about it?
Melting glaciers seems so far off that climate change wasn't a priority, but now that we are seeing frequent disruptions, the issue has to take on more importance.
Still, climate change is a complex issue and there are no ways to alter our local weather as there are to try to control local populations of geese or crows.
Asking people to be more "green" may seem like an inconsequential solution to a problem when reports surface about the widespread pollution in China or other countries that can undo every step we take here.
Still, doing something is better than sitting around complaining about our plight. Although individuals can do much in their personal lives, local public policy also needs to be developed as if climate change is a condition that we will live with from now on.
Local public policy, of course, can't deal with emissions and other more national, or global solutions. Instead, it looks at adapting to a changing climate rather than altering it.
For example, Spring Valley was one of the first cities in the area to discover that 100-year floods can happen several years in a row, or even multiple times in a single year, around 2001 when repeat flash floods hit.
With the help of the DNR, the city has been purchasing houses in the floodplain and converting the property to green space. The city also tried to clear the channel of Spring Valley Creek to improve flow, something more practical on a small stream than on something such as the Root River, which is causing flooding in other areas now.
Although the flood in Rushford was due to a record event, it took many steps for flood control and the potential of flooding is in the minds of officials in many policy decisions these days.
Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District is also asking farmers to practice good conservation measures on their land. Brian Hazel, Lanesboro farmer and Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation Board supervisor for over 20 years, noted that soil erosion is the worst this year that he has ever seen.
As SWCD officials noted in a press release, the long-term benefits are immeasurable - the ability to continue to produce food and fiber on what has been some of the most productive land in the world while keeping the soil and nutrients on the land where they belong and out of our water where they don't belong.
For now, people in our area have more immediate concerns as the rain continues to cause damage. When the water recedes, we'll have to prepare for a future in which historical records and calculations based on average weather aren't a good guide any more.