Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lessons from the 2011 flood on the Missouri River

Caroline Pufault in St. Louis Today: This week citizens, scientists and public officials met in St. Louis to consider how to respond to last year's "unnatural flooding" along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The event was hosted by the Water Protection Network, a coalition that works to promote environmentally and economically sound water policies.

One can expect reasoned debate and frank advice on how to coexist with the river in the future. But how many other times have citizens gathered to rue the fact that management of and development along the Missouri River is shortsighted and narrow-minded? We still have not acted on many common-sense recommendations resulting from the 1993 flood.

Here in Missouri we want it all from our namesake river. We want enough water in any season to float the very meager navigation traffic on the river; we want narrow river corridors and high levees so we can build and plant in the floodplain; and we want few restrictions that would keep farm runoff from polluting the river and contributing to the "dead zone" in the gulf.

The record high runoff into the Missouri in 2011 is forcing us to face the fact that we can't have it all. The huge mainstream dams in the upper river didn't prevent flooding, but only reduced its severity. The flood of 1993 already demonstrated that we can have flooding on the lower river based primarily on regional rainfall. Normally two-thirds of the river's total flow comes from tributaries entering below the dams.

We on the lower river can't keep looking for solutions to our problems primarily based on changes in upstream states. We need our own solutions to flooding. So far most of our political and social response to the 2011 flood seems more like an insistence on "don't make me change anything," with misplaced blame, distortion and a refusal to acknowledge limitations and change...

Aerial view of the waterfront section of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA, along the River. The picture was taken during the flood of 1993. US Army Corps of Engineers photo

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