Last week, as the picture of rising water was coming into focus, the Washington Post took an in-depth look at the question of river management systems in light of the Mississippi River floods. As the waters continue to rise, there has been more written on flood plain management in mainstream media and in public internet spaces than in a month’s worth of technical journals. The articles collectively bemoan the quandary of existing plans, while suggesting there should be other approaches. And, they sight U.S. cities and European countries where new approaches are being adopted, suggesting we should consider them for the future of the Mississippi River.
This kind of talk always accompanies crisis. But when the flood waters recede, – which is going to be slow this time – who will be available to do the hard work of examining and prioritizing the options for a better future plan for Mississippi River flooding? The question is even larger. “Who should make such decisions for the future of the Mississippi River?”
The Likely Suspects Will Be Too Busy
People will naturally turn to the Army of Corps of Engineers because they’re the ones seeing this event up close and personal. They’re also the ones charged with maintaining the navigability of the Mississippi River. But when the flooding is finished, they will be exhausted. And besides, they have their hands full just trying to get budget money for maintaining the current plans’ effectiveness.
The Mississippi River states can’t be the ones to call the meeting because each state has been impacted differently. And they’ll be trying to figure out how to help their residents recover and how to pay for the recovery.
The cities and counties will really have their hands full – probably for the rest of the year, and then some.
It doesn’t seem likely that insurance companies will summarily examine better ways for the future. They’re most likely to spend their time reexamining their underwriting guidelines, as perhaps they should.
So who should participate in a meeting to consider better flood management for the future of the Mississippi River?
Treating the Mississippi River as a Whole System
We think the people who live on the Mississippi River – yes those who have been impacted significantly by this year’s flooding – are the ones who need to consider this question carefully. This doesn’t just mean displaced homeowners or farmers. It means business owners, local office holders, local Army Corps of Engineers personnel, local educators, soil and water conservation personnel, EPA and Dept. of Natural Resources personnel, as well as recreation leaders, tourism officials and historic preservationists. The expertise needed to address this complex issue can be assembled from among those who live with and make their living from the Mississippi River.
You see River residents are the stakeholders who will be affected by the next Mississippi River floods. They have expertise, but they also have personal experience. They also have the most to gain and the most to lose if new plans are adopted. Therefore, they can be counted on to work the hardest to consider what a good overall plan for the future should look like.
Yes, There Is A Way
Fortunately, there’s a mechanism in place that can enable this to happen throughout the whole Mississippi River Valley and therefore address the River as a whole water system. AmericaSpeaks has a proven process for managing face-to-face meetings in multiple locations simultaneously and eliciting from participants the best and most agreed-upon solutions. They are partnered with America’s Waterway, a nonprofit organization designed for the purpose of hosting such a dialogue and then moving outcomes to the internet where concerned citizens can continue to work toward the achievement of a new plan or at least new goals for the future of the Mississippi River in flood times.
For many of us who’ve lived on the River for years, floods aren’t new. Yes this one is more destructive and is affecting more areas of the river than any floods in recent times. But this year’s floods have shone a light on a nagging problem that has been allowed to go unresolved because it didn’t have the whole River’s – and the nation’s attention.
With the events of this spring, let’s not lose the impetus to address the whole Mississippi River with plans and ideas for future flood management so we don’t find ourselves – or our children’s generation – experiencing this same disaster, only in worse proportion. More growth, unaddressed infrastructure and locally-based solutions for one river section at a time will only exacerbate future flooding. Let’s make sure the meeting gets called and that Mississippi River stakeholders have a say in the future plan soon, before the next flood season is upon us.
You Can Help
If you agree that a whole river approach to future flood plans is needed and you see the value of soliciting the input of experts from all walks of life on the Mississippi River, join us on our facebook page. More importantly, spread the word to public officials, funders and others along the Mississippi River by circulating this blog and raising the issue where you live on the River. And, send us your thoughts about how we move from section-by-section policy to a whole-River approach to the future of the Mississippi River.
Articles and blogs of interest:
Campbell Robertson in the New York Times captures the human response to a known plan.
G. Tracy Mehan points to the history of and need for collaboration in water planning in a Viewpoint piece for the Water Environment Federation.
Jeffrey Ball in the Wall Street Journal writes about runoff concerns for the Gulf.
Deak Klinkenberg chronicles the numerous floods of the Mississippi River.
Matt Garcia writes in his blog, Hydro Logic, and shows how old the idea of a whole-river approach is.
Mark Gorman’s remarks at the dedication of the Cong. Costello Field Station for the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.
Brian Vastag writes in the Washington Post, featuring alternative models.
Ron Powers writes a CNN op-ed from his days growing up on the Mississippi.
Richard Lovett writes in Nature News why floods were expected.