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Floods Strike Again: A Case For Land Conservation

30 June 2013 | Category: Headlines, History, Nature
Flash flooding undercut State Highway 60 in Richland County on June 23, 2013, washing the edge of the road away beneath the guardrail..
Wisconsin Highway 60 was among several roads damaged by heavy rains in June 2013. Photo by Richland County Emergency Management via the National Weather Service.

The Summer of 2013 began with floods, washouts, and landslides across the Driftless Area, destroying roadways and inundating homes in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. These events bring significant losses and make dramatic news, but they are not new. To the contrary, the Driftless Area's rugged landscape owes its very existence to millions of years of erosion by floodwater, and that erosion is an ongoing process. Widespread human construction, by contrast, is a recent development in this environment. The repeated rains and landslides of the last decade make clear that communities in the Driftless Area must plan their land use for the inevitable occurrence of further flooding and erosion.

The Driftless Area is prone to flash-floods and landslides in part because of its unique topography, which has a higher degree of slope than surrounding regions. The following map (view map at high-resolution) is colored by slope to highlight this distinction, with steeper hillsides shaded more brightly than level land. The Driftless Area stands out immediately as the bright swath across the center of the map:

Map of the Driftless Area of the Midwestern United States colored by degree of slope.

The steep terrain of the Driftless Area increases the speed at which run-off collects into drainage channels, ordinarily an advantage, as it dries uplands quickly and prevents water from pooling into stagnant ponds and bogs. During heavy rains, however, water collects more rapidly than some narrow channels can accommodate, leading to sudden flash floods that erode banks and scour new channels. In the meantime, the saturated hillsides — especially those with inadequate vegetation — lose strength and give way, leading to landslides. These are the very processes that created the jagged valleys and steep slopes of the Driftless Area, a landscape forged in unison with running water.

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Posted By: Joshua | 1 Comment »

Wisconsin Census Data Released

10 March 2011 | Category: Headlines

The United States Census Bureau today released its first official 2010 population figures for Wisconsin counties, cities, villages, and towns. These are exciting numbers, and not only for comparing rival cities and hometown trends. The census data will be used, among other things, to tweak the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to ensure equal representation — a process that will no doubt be mired down in gerrymandering and political intrigue. I'll set that aside for this post, however, and focus on the numbers.

Wisconsin's population grew from 5.36 million to 5.68 million between 2000 and 2010. That's an increase of about 6% — slower growth than in most states, so Wisconsin's rank has slipped from 18 to 20 over the last ten years. That slide in proportion is small enough that Wisconsin will still keep eight congressional representatives and ten electoral votes for the next decade. While overall growth was sluggish, it's notable that the state's Hispanic population increased by over 72% in the last ten years. Hispanic residents now make up nearly 6% of the state's total population.

The map below shows the relative change in the total population of Wisconsin's counties:

The map shows that Wisconsin's population growth was spread fairly consistently across the state and carried over into many rural counties, with the exception of the north woods. Fifty-two counties gained population, and twenty had a loss. This is a stark contrast to what happened in Iowa, where 2/3 of the counties saw a population decrease.

Wisconsin's largest cities remained fairly steady over the last ten years. Milwaukee continued to lose population but at a decreasing rate, and it remains by far the state's largest city. Near Milwaukee, Racine and West Allis also lost population, while Waukesha grew by 9%. Madison saw its population rise by 25,155 people, a jump of 12%. The only change in ranking was that Janesville overtook West Allis as the state's 10th largest city.

Wisconsin's 10 Largest Cities in 2010 and 2000
City 2010 2010 Rank 2000 2000 Rank Pop. Change % Change
Milwaukee 594,833 1 596,947 1 -2,114 -0.35%
Madison 233,209 2 208,054 2 25,155 12.09%
Green Bay 104,057 3 102,313 3 1,744 1.70%
Kenosha 99,218 4 90,352 4 8,866 9.81%
Racine 78,860 5 81,855 5 -2,995 -3.66%
Appleton 72,623 6 70,087 6 2,536 3.62%
Waukesha 70,718 7 64,825 7 5,893 9.09%
Oshkosh 66,083 8 62,916 8 3,167 5.03%
Eau Claire 65,883 9 61,704 9 4,179 6.77%
Janesville 63,575 10 59,498 11 4,077 6.85%
West Allis 60,411 11 61,254 10 -843 -1.38%

Here in Southwest Wisconsin, every county except Crawford gained population. A number of factors likely contributed to Crawford County's loss, but the major back-to-back floods on the Kickapoo River in 2007 and 2008 no doubt played a role: Gays Mills in Crawford County lost over a fifth of its residents; Soldiers Grove lost nearly one in ten. The county seat at Prairie du Chien also experienced a slight decline.

In Grant County, Cassville fell below 1,000 people, and the county seat Lancaster experienced a slight decline, but Platteville's population jumped from 9,989 to 11,224. Fennimore's population skipped ahead of both Mineral Point and Darlington.

La Crosse, the largest city in the region, remains almost unchanged in size with only a slight decline, but it's largest suburb Onalaska grew by nearly 20%.

The table below includes figures for several cities and villages in Southwest Wisconsin. Click on a column header to sort the table by that column.

Cities and Villages in Southwest Wisconsin
City or Village 2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
Black River Falls 3,622 3,618 4 0.11%
Boscobel 3,231 3,047 184 6.04%
Cashton 1,102 1,005 97 9.65%
Cassville 947 1,085 -138 -12.72%
Darlington 2,451 2,418 33 1.36%
Dodgeville 4,693 4,220 473 11.21%
Fennimore 2,497 2,387 110 4.61%
Gays Mills 491 625 -134 -21.44%
La Crosse 51,320 51,818 -498 -0.96%
Lancaster 3,868 4,070 -202 -4.96%
Mineral Point 2,487 2,617 -130 -4.97%
Onalaska 17,736 14,839 2,897 19.52%
Platteville 11,224 9,989 1,235 12.36%
Prairie du Chien 5,911 6,018 -107 -1.78%
Reedsville 1,206 1,187 19 1.60%
Richland Center 5,184 5,114 70 1.37%
Soldiers Grove 592 653 -61 -9.34%
Sparta 9,522 8,648 874 10.11%
Spring Green 1,628 1,444 184 12.74%
Tomah 9,093 8,419 674 8.01%
Trempealeau 1,529 1,319 210 15.92%
Viroqua 4,362 4,335 27 0.62%
Westby 2,200 2,045 155 7.58%

You can dig for even more census data at the Census Bureau's American Factfinder website. What do you make of the new figures? As always, feel welcome to comment below.

Posted By: Joshua | 2 Comments »

Wisconsin Assembly Vote on Budget Repair: District by District

27 February 2011 | Category: Headlines

By now just about everyone has heard about the contentious Wisconsin Assembly vote early Friday morning that approved Governor Scott Walker's contentious "budget repair" bill in mere seconds — without even allowing time for the entire assembly to vote! Since I couldn't find a map of the vote anywhere else, I decided to make one myself. Now it is easy to see whose representatives have been listening, whose have not, and whose weren't given a chance to represent their constituents at all.

A Map of Wisconsin Assembly Districts shaded by vote on Gov. Walker's proposed budget repair

You are welcome to copy and share this map. If you want more information, you can access the full vote roll from the Wisconsin State Legislature website. They also offer detailed and numbered maps of the state assembly districts.

Edit: The map has been corrected to show that Janet Bewley (D) of District 74 (Ashland) did not get in a vote. I apologize for any confusion caused earlier.

Posted By: Joshua | 1 Comment »

To Be Fair, We Must Level Up

22 February 2011 | Category: Headlines, History
Citizens surround the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker's budget proposals.

Protestors in Wisconsin on February 19, 2011.

Photo © 2011 Mark Danielson. Obtained under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

The protests this month in Madison have incorporated much discussion of fairness — something that people on all sides claim to be seeking. The debate reminds me of a quote by Dr. Samuel Johnson, a British scholar best known for compiling A Dictionary of the English Language in the 1750s. Dr. Johnson was a staunch conservative in an era when conservatism meant defending aristocratic privilege, and he once disparaged an egalitarian movement in England by remarking, "Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves."

These words struck me as a very legitimate criticism. Why is it that those who stand up for fairness so often fixate on cutting down those who are better off, rather than lifting up all of society?

Make no mistake: Dr. Johnson was on the wrong side of political history. At the cusp of the American Revolution, for example, he wrote that "there can be no limited government" and that "since the Americans have made it necessary to subdue them, may they be subdued ... When they are reduced to obedience, may that obedience be secured by stricter laws and stronger obligations!" This does not mean that all of Dr. Johnson's observations lack merit. His comment about levellers seems enduringly and unfortunately relevant. It is, however, something we can change. When we work towards fairness, we should strive to level up, not to level down.

I grant that there are limits. We cannot all rise to be aristocrats, for there would then be no one left to serve our feasts or plow our fields. That dependence on servitude is where the truth becomes manifest: real unfairness comes not so much when some people have more than others, but rather when some people have more than others through coercion — when one class lives high by exploiting the labor of others.

People who legitimately seek fairness and equality will work, not to bring people down, but to raise people up by leveling the distribution of power, eliminating the privileges that give one class, race, or gender the power to exploit or to hold down the rest. That is the way to level up.

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Posted By: Joshua | 1 Comment »

Rural Iowa is now even more rural.

10 February 2011 | Category: Headlines

It's official: 66 of 99 counties in Iowa lost people between 2000 and 2010, even while the overall state population increased by 4.1% owing to the growth of large cities and especially suburbs — continuing a decades-long trend. These details from Census 2010 were released today by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Iowa is the first state in the region for which detailed Census 2010 data has been released. The Census Bureau plans to release data on a rolling state-by-state basis to be completed by April 1. I'll be sure to note the release of data for Wisconsin here at Acceity when that arrives. In the meantime, the Iowa returns offer something to think about.

Posted By: Joshua | No Comments »

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