Flood of 2018
Tama county, Iowa
Chelsea, Iowa is known for its unrelenting flooding – and the residents that stay regardless. 1991, 1993, 2008, and 2018 have all been years of significant flooding for the Tama County town – sometimes multiple floods each year. In September 2018, the Iowa River swelled once again, covering the main roads in town and flooding basements.
Life goes on regardless of a flood. Shane and Sam Behounek keep their car parked at the local bank to avoid driving through the water. Instead of driving, they walk their children through the water to school.
“We get a lot of rain it just kind of happens that way,” said Shane. “We got about a foot to two foot in our basement it always goes in and then we got to pump it out, it is what it is.”
Behonuek and other residents do not mind the flooding; they do mind when outsiders come to gawk.
“People drive through just to see the water, but they’re pushing more water into the houses and ditches,” said Sam Behounek. “So if you don’t live here, stay away.”
Chelsea has had issues with onlookers before. During the floods of 2008, people would try to dock their boats and take a look around the flooded town commented Mayor Russ Ochs.
In the past, Chelsea has faced worse flooding. In 1994, the town voted to move out of the floodplain, using $7 million in federal aid to do so. However, the plan never materialized. Difficulty planning and the sentimental value of the town ultimately kept residents in their homes. Only 40 homeowners took the federal aid out of the town’s 300-person population.
While the floods are bothersome, they have not been life-threatening. Mayor Ochs notes that no death in Chelsea has been attributed to flooding since 1944. With the threat to safety minimized and years of practice dealing with the Iowa River, residents consider the flooding to be a part of the town’s identity.
Sources: Saulny, Susan, “A Town That Looked at Leaving the Floodplain but Stayed On,” The New York Times, 2008; Riley, Roger, “High Water Impacts Chelsea – Closes Roads near Iowa River, 13 Who, 2018.