USA: Today's floods occur along "a very different" Mississippi River

Source(s)
Environment & Energy Publishing

By Daniel Cusick

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Experts say the new floods come faster and more furiously than their 20th-century counterparts. They last longer and are less predictable. And they cause more property damage, especially in the basin’s upper reaches where wetlands, forest and prairie have been replaced by subdivisions, office parks and drain-tiled farm fields.

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[A committee charged with identifying the root causes of the 1993 Mississippi River flood and proposing a long-term approach to floodplain management] identified several key steps the federal government should take to reduce future flood risk: First, increase spending on levee repair, maintenance and security; second, improve coordination among federal, state and local authorities who oversee the river and its floodplain; and third, foster engagement with floodplain residents, farmers and businesses about how to mitigate risk from rising water.

“Twenty-five years later, we’re still having the conversations. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the way we go about our business on the river,” [Gerald Galloway, UMD Professor of civil and environmental engineering,] said last week. As Gilbert White, a pioneer in U.S. natural hazards research, used to say, “‘The half-life of the memory of a flood is remarkably short.’ Once it’s past, we get back to regular business where potholes seem to eclipse levee failures,” Galloway said.

But where policy changes have been static, physical and environmental changes to the river have been ongoing. The climate is becoming warmer and more volatile, exacerbating known risks and creating new ones to the river’s environmental, social and economic health.

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