"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Genesis 1:26
As the Mississippi River reaches historic crests, the flood-control system designed to protect property is instead destroying crops, homes and businesses that will cost billions of dollars and require months of recovery efforts, flood experts and conservationists say.
That has prompted them to call for a major shift in federal policy that since the 1920s has tried to limit Mississippi River flooding through a massive system of levees, release valves, floodways and drainage basins.
The shift would let the river run more freely, but would probably force the relocation of communities to convert developed areas into open space.
"We need some retreat from our rivers," said Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. This year's flooding, along with overflows of the Mississippi in 1937 and 1973, show the limits of control systems in protecting communities from intense rains and increased flows into the river caused by development and farming. "They need to re-evaluate the entire system," Larson said.
On Wednesday, as barge traffic resumed after the Coast Guard opened the river north of New Orleans, the National Wildlife Federation called on the government to scale back its control of the Mississippi. "Give it room to run," the federation's John Kostyack said.
The federation said the river's flood controls "create higher flood levels and faster flows," which destroy more farmland and property.
The federation says the government should not repair the levee it blew open in Missouri on May 3. Leaving the breach would turn thousands of acres of farmland into a floodplain with little or limited agricultural use. "Our overreliance on levees is not going to get us through these crises year after year," Kostyack said.
The Army Corps of Engineers destroyed the levee, flooding 130,000 acres of farmland, to protect small cities such as Cairo, Ill.
"Farmers worry about such a policy shift, said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau: "Some of those farms have been in the same family for a century. People have worked their whole lives to improve this ground."
In a USA TODAY editorial column, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., said removing flood protection is "a high ideal for environmentalists who live in safer places" and "an unthinkable violation of property rights and liberty for Americans who have lived beside the river for more than a century."
Army Corps spokesman Gene Pawlik said the Mississippi's flood-control system, authorized by Congress, "is functioning as designed and has greatly reduced risk" during the flooding.
The levee system, maintained by the corps, has narrowed some channels of the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers to as little as one-third of their original widths, said Nicholas Pinter, a geology professor at Southern Illinois University who spoke Wednesday on a conference call organized by the wildlife federation.
"The Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers are largely man-made constructs," Pinter said.
Posted 5/18/2011 10:01:40 PM
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