By Mary Minette, ELCA Director of Environmental Education and Advocacy

Fargo/Moorhead area

Flooding in the Fargo/Moorhead area. Photo Credit: Michael Nevergall

This month our series on the federal budget is focusing on how water programs may be affected by cuts in the federal budget.  The opening reflection focused on water quality and how proposed budget cuts will impact partnerships between the federal government and state and local communities. Those partnerships have made our nation’s waters substantially cleaner than they were 30 years ago

This spring and summer, several communities are struggling with a very different problem: too much water.  Higher than normal winter snowpack and greater than normal spring rain levels are overwhelming dams and levee systems throughout the Midwest and Southeast this year.  Communities in western Iowa, North Dakota and the Southeastern states along rivers from the Missouri to the Mississippi have been hit hard by flooding, with devastating impacts on farmland, homes and businesses.

As we pray for the recovery of these communities, we recognize the strain that rebuilding will place on the budgets of families and companies, and on the resources of local, state and federal agencies. As a church body, we do what we can through the work of ELCA Disaster Response

But we should also consider how the shrinking budgets of local, state and federal governments may impact the ability of communities to deal with flooding in the future. 

The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette recently reported that a critical monitoring system used by the National Weather Service to predict the path that floodwaters may take could be impaired because of federal budget cuts.  Stream gauges, operated by federal agencies working with states and local communities, track water flows in rivers and streams throughout the country.  Without this data it will be difficult to accurately predict when and where flood waters will crest.  But state and local governments are struggling to support these projects and federal budget cuts will endanger the monitoring system even further.

In a time of budget austerity, how do we decide which programs to save?