Missouri must change its floodplain policies

from the Hannibal Courier-Post

August 10, 2016

Missouri is a state defined by our great rivers. These rivers have been made famous worldwide by Mark Twain, Thomas Hart Benton, Paul Robeson, and other great artists. But based on how local governments treat these rivers, one would think they were nothing more than fetid drainage ditches.

Throughout this state, we have seen local governments and the Army Corps of Engineers entice floodplain development with tax subsidies and unnecessary levee systems. Our hubris to dominate the river through levees, dams, unnecessary ports, and other methods has, by any impartial measure, made flooding more frequent and severe. How else would you explain that flood crest records in this state go back to at least 1844, but 22 of the 28 highest crests in Hannibal have been since 1990?

This is not a possible result of climate change (thought that may be a factor). It is a direct result of our own choices to develop along floodplains and floodways in Missouri while channeling our major rivers with levees. The floods are more frequent because our levee policies force the rivers higher, and they are more destructive because the water can no longer flow where it was intended. The Holiday floods of 2015/2016 were a perfect example of this.

In the past, people did not develop within the floodplain because of the obvious risks, but now our local governments have removed the financial risk by absurdly offering tax subsidies to build in floodplains all along our major rivers. The ineptitude of that choice is appalling, but it continues on because of myopic local officials who cannot see the forest for the trees (and wet trees at that). Hopefully, recent state law changes to tax subsidies will improve the situation, however, that remains to be seen.

Our great rivers belong to everyone, not just the barge industry, levee districts, and politicians. Missouri’s future depends on conserving our rivers for future generations, instead of creating man-made floods as we have been doing.