Photo: Mark Hirsch

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How much responsibility do humans have for the floods disastrously deluging the Midwest? Of course the rain poured for days, but it fell on plowed-up prairies, drained fields, altered streams, no-longer-wetlands, and developed flood plains — all unable to absorb precipitation to the best of their natural ability. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 160,000 acres of Iowa land (mostly covered with deep-rooted, water-absorbing grasses) was taken out of a federal conservation-reserve program to be farmed (mostly for corn). Near St. Louis, Mo., nearly 30,000 homes have been built on land that was submerged by flooding in 1993; despite taller, stronger levees — which some say are part of the problem, not the solution — the area may very well be swamped again as floodwaters roll south. “Cities routinely build in the flood plain,” says Kamyar Enshayan, a city councilmember in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “That’s not an act of God; that’s an act of City Council.”

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