Madison Daily Leader, Madison, Sept. 15

Madison should use research from South Dakota State University

Last year’s September floods are fresh in our minds, and we should continue to work on mitigation efforts to prevent similar events in the future.

It’s human nature to think one big solution will fix everything, but experts say flood control is most successful with many smaller steps. And that’s been the path for Madison since the 1993 flood.

Consider the work that’s been done in the past 27 years: a flood buyout program that removed the most vulnerable homes in the flood plain; replacement of a number of bridges over Memorial Creek to add capacity (including two more this summer); increased storm sewer capacity in parts of the city to allow more water to pass underground; and flood consideration in the design of new housing developments to allow for water detention in times of need.

There is plenty more work to be done, which leads us to consider what is happening in Brookings.

Four faculty members in the South Dakota State University School of Design have looked into green methods to manage stormwater that can reduce runoff, an idea that could work in Madison, as well.

“Green stormwater infrastructure uses soil and plants to capture water in a distributed, disconnected network of practices throughout the landscape,” said landscape architecture instructor Jeremiah Bergstrom. That can mean adding native grasses, bushes and trees on the edge of a parking lot, installing a rain garden in the back yard or planting perennials in the boulevard to capture runoff in a residential area.

A grant from the California Landscape Architectural Student Scholarship Fund and matching funds from the East Dakota Water Development District are funding the research in Brookings. Presumably, the research would be available to other similar cities, like Madison.

“Because this approach utilizes lots of little fixes, engaging city officials and community members is integral to implementing these techniques -- and maintaining the structures,” said associate professor Pat Crawford, director of the School of Design.

The good news for Madison is that the city controls much of the property abutting both Memorial Creek and Silver Creek. The properties could be reshaped and constructed without affecting nearby homeowners too much.

But controlling the land is only the first step. A comprehensive project would require a lot of study and decisions by engineers and landscape architects. Soil types, watershed characteristics, land uses and much more need to be considered.

We’d love to see the City of Madison embrace the idea of managing stormwater runoff through green methods. And the Brookings project is the perfect starting point.


Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Sept. 10

Can Noem back Trump and South Dakota at the same time?

At a time when many Americans have curtailed their travel due to the ongoing global pandemic, Kristi Noem is seeing a lot of the country.

Last week, South Dakota’s governor was the featured speaker at a fundraising event for the Ohio Republican Party at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where couples paid $2,500 to attend a photo reception with Noem.

A few nights earlier, the governor was in Iowa, a traditional kickoff state for presidential hopefuls, speaking at the Pottawattamie County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, also attended by former Donald Trump campaign manager and current Noem advisor Corey Lewandowski.

Noem’s biggest star turn came Aug. 26 at the at the Republican National Convention, where her taped speech from Washington D.C. praised President Trump for defending the Constitution against “Democrats and their radical supporters” in cities “overrun by violent mobs,” a message she also shared in visits to North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Expect more travel from South Dakota’s chief executive as she serves as a surrogate for the Trump campaign leading up to the Nov. 3 election. And while her office insists that no state funds have been used for the trips, it’s fair to wonder whether Noem can be a barnstorming backer for Trump and an effective governor for South Dakota at the same time, especially during a public health crisis.

Of course, it must be noted that the trips are not just for Trump. Like the regular TV appearances on Fox News and other conservative outlets that have helped raise Noem’s national profile, these battleground state junkets benefit the governor personally as she weighs a possible national run in 2024.

The line between what benefits the citizens of South Dakota and what boosts Noem politically is an increasingly blurry one, as evidenced by a 30-second TV spot featuring the governor that aired in conjunction with her convention speech, praising South Dakota as “a place to safely explore” even amidst the pandemic – and costing taxpayers $819,000.

The scenery-laden commercial, which will get a broader rollout as part of a $5 million tourism campaign using federal coronavirus relief funds, was unique in that it used Noem as narrator and targeted Fox News viewership, fertile ground for potential GOP primary votes. There will also be more interviews, many of them bashing the media, from the TV studio installed in the basement of the state capitol building last year at public expense.


Yankton Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Sept. 15

Wildfires could be sign of things to come

The west is in flames.

While that’s a somewhat dramatic and overly broad description of what’s happening right now on the West Coast, it’s also a blunt appraisal of the wildfire disaster unfolding in California, Oregon and Washington, among other places.

Forests are burning. People are fleeing and dying. Smoke is compromising air quality while drifting across the nation. It has impacted the skies in this region the last few days.

Frankly, this is what the long-sounded threats of climate change look like: a magnification of disasters on an epic scale.

This is what our future may increasingly look like.

There are those who vigorously disagree, of course, and always will. But they fiddle while the world burns or drowns in ferocious tropical storms. They stand defiant as prairies and timberland bake or are washed away, depending on the meteorological mood of a given violent moment.

On Monday, President Donald Trump visited California, where nearly 2 million acres of land have burned this year already, a 2,000% increase from this time last year. He blamed the wildfires on poor forest management, not the extreme weather patterns that have created tinderbox conditions.

To be sure, forest management HAS long been a contributing factor in wildfires. The zero-tolerance policy that this nation adopted toward fires back in the early 1900s smothered the fact that the burn-off of vegetation was a natural process for forests and prairies. This realization eventually led to the development of proactive practices to deal with the excess fuel.

“Experts, environmentalists and loggers largely agree that thinning trees and brush through prescribed burns and careful logging will help prevent forests that cover vast tracts of the American West from threatening cities with fire,” The Associated Press noted.

But even these steps have occasionally confronted walls of opposition as humans have increasingly encroached into once-remote areas and, in the process, have placed themselves in harm’s way.

However, there is more at work here than forests that, as the president has suggested, need “raking.”

Climate change has generated extreme weather scenarios that have magnified the threats. For example, prolonged heat and dry weather, whipped by powerful winds often created by wildfires themselves, have made forested areas more prone to disaster.

This past weekend, the San Jose Mercury News cited a climate report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program noting global temperature changes since the early 20th century have led to more extreme weather events. (Incidentally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that North America saw its warmest August on record last month.) According to the study, “daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities. Heatwaves have become more frequent in the U.S. since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. And large forest fires in the western United States have increased since the early 1980s and are projected to continue.”

This report is one of many climate studies that have reached similar conclusions, which is why California Gov. Gavin Newsom told the president Monday, “We come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in — and observed evidence is self-evident — that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.”

Still, the arguments will continue as dry land burns, coastal areas flood and more lives and property are impacted. These exchanges will offer continued opportunities for discussion — but at some point, talk must give way to action. And that point is looming straight before us.