The Flood Fight with a Happy Ending

July 30, 2008 02:51 PM
The following information is a Web Extra from the pages of Farm Journal. It corresponds with the sidebar "Two 500-Year Floods in Less Than Two Decades” from the "When Rain Pours Down” article. You can find the article on pages 14-16 of the Summer 2008 issue.
Charlene Finck, Farm Journal Editor
Even this summer, after outrunning the rivers in 2008, Mike Pieper talks about the flood of 1993 like it was just a few days ago. His words tumble out faster and faster as he remembers how the water swallowed his Wever, Iowa farm, his family's home, his profitability for that year—and defined the years ahead.
Thankfully, the 1993 flood that put his family on the cover of Farm Journal was a defining moment. He'll never, ever forget it, and he has vowed to do everything in his power to never endure that again. His steely resolve and that of others in the Green Bay Levee and Drainage District is the backbone of what spared the southeast Iowa area this summer.
The district's 14,000 acres is embraced by 11 miles of levee along the Mississippi River and 4 miles of levee along the Skunk River.
"We fared pretty well this time,” says the farmer, who is the chairman of the district. "A big part of that as being more prepared.”
Since the 1993 waters receded, the district built the levees up higher, made a preparedness plan and learned from experience. That was all before the 2008 waters began to rise.
When the risk of flooding became clear, the group swung into action: using 22 bulldozers to reinforce and protect the levees, sandbagging, checking the levees, and organizing a slew of volunteers who were kind enough to help.
"I can't say enough nice things about the volunteers who helped,” says Pieper. "They showed up and worked like they were protecting their own farms and houses. They were sweating, dirty, wet and more than happy to help. We're grateful for the outpouring of help.”
While Pieper was consumed with leading the drainage district efforts, volunteers even helped pack up his family's household contents and moved it all to higher ground.
In the end, the district that suffered $19 million in damage in 1993 was spared when the rivers peaked without breaching the levees.
Being ready was one key to the district's success this year, Pieper says. The other was staying two days ahead of the rivers this time. "We just assumed that the water would rise faster than expected and made sure we were at least two days ahead of it,” he says.
Nearly the minute his farm and drainage district was spared, Pieper swung into action as a volunteer helping others fight the flood. "Once the rivers peaked, I packed up the big pumps I built for 1993 and headed south to Alexandria [Missouri] to help them recover,” he says.
"I'll help out as long and as much as I can. Our '93 experience taught us that the flood is just the beginning of the marathon of work that follows.”
In 1993, the water turned his farm into a lake on July 11. They moved back to the farm just in time for Thanksgiving that year, but still find signs of the flood damage today.
Pieper still has hogs, raising breeding stock, but rented his crop ground 4 years ago to concentrate on his commercial construction business. The children riding in the boat on the 1993 Farm Journal cover are now grown. "Even the little redhead [daughter] riding on her mom's lap is 19 and out of high school,” he says.
Anyone who knows Pieper knows he's always on the go. These days, he's splitting his time between his businesses, helping flooded areas recover and getting his drainage district even more prepared for the next time the rivers roar.

You can e-mail Charlene Finck at  

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