Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Spring Flooding In Mid-Western US Forecast, But People Still Build On Floodplains

Date:
April 4, 2008
Source:
Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
Midwesterners have to be wondering: Will April be the cruelest month? Patterns in the Midwest this spring are eerily reminiscent of 1993 and 1994, back-to-back years of serious flooding. Despite the similarity, and periods of flooding nearly every year after those flood years, one thing Midwesterners have not learned is "geologic reality," says one professor of earth and planetary sciences.

Swirling water destroys this levee surrounding the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri during the flood of 1993. Robert Criss, Ph.D., WUSTL professor of earth and planetary sciences, says that levees are not infallible, and he cites a number of reasons why they are problematic to communities.
Credit: Photo courtesy of USGS

Midwesterners have to be wondering: Will April be the cruelest month? Patterns in the Midwest this spring are eerily reminiscent of 1993 and 1994, back-to-back years of serious flooding. The great flood of 1993 caused nearly $20 billion of economic damage, damaging or destroying more than 50,000 homes and killing at least 38 people.

Parallels this year include abnormally high levels of precipitation in late winter and early spring, and early flooding in various regions. In March, Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois and the Ohio River experienced flooding. A still-unknown factor is the effect of the snow melt from upstream states on river systems this spring and summer. Wisconsin, for example, had record amounts of snow this winter.

Despite the similarity in conditions and periods of flooding nearly every year after those flood years more than a decade ago, one thing Midwesterners have not learned is "geologic reality," says Robert E. Criss, Ph.D., professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

"When people build commercial or residential real estate in flood plains, when they build on sink holes, when they build on fault lines, when they build on the hillsides in L.A. that are going to burn and burn, over and over again, they're ignoring geologic reality," Criss says. "They're asking for chronic problems."

Many homes in the St. Louis region along the Meramec River have suffered damage, and some are still not habitable, even as spring comes to the area.

"Yes, the loss of and damage to homes is heartbreaking, and tragic, but it wasn't that long ago, in 1994, that a flood of equal impact hit the region to inundate homes in the floodplain. And, there was even more severe flooding than that in 1982," Criss says. "Flooding is what a river does on its geomorphic flood plain. It's an obvious geologic mistake to build on a floodplain."

How about putting up more levees, such as the 500-year levee in the St. Louis suburbs of Valley Park and Chesterfield, constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

"Building a levee for a community simply 'certifies' that this is a great place to build more things," Criss says. "The Corps of Engineers will come in and claim it's a 500-year levee, which is a claim they cannot make, yet routinely do. That just encourages more infrastructure to move into these areas, when we should take the Times Beach and Valmeyer approach."

Criss refers to the Missouri community of Times Beach, Mo., which was abandoned following the flood of the Meramec River in 1982, and Valmeyer, Ill., which moved off the Mississippi floodplain and was rebuilt up on the river bluff after the flood of 1993.

"An additional problem is that this is a starving world with comparatively little arable crop land," he says. "I object, from an environmental and geological point of view, to converting some of the best crop land in the world to strip malls and commercial real estate. This is a bad swap and it's using the land for the wrong reasons."

Criss says that levees cause water to rise instead of spread out, and that the cumulative effect of levees and wing dykes on the large rivers north of St. Louis is beginning to manifest itself in flooding.

Criss says the claim that a levee will withstand floods for 500 years is "an absurd exaggeration. If some private company were making claims that they'll sell you a car that will run for 500 years, they'd be in jail. Somehow, the government feels justified making absurd claims that have no basis."

Criss says better zoning laws that encourage appropriate kinds of development for areas could be the solution to extreme flooding.

"Everyone screams for more levees, which only encourage more development," he says. "These structures are not infallible, and when the levees fail — and they will, carefully though they are built — we just have more infrastructure in harm's way. It's not a very thoughtful approach.

"We ignore the natural system in what we do. These are floodplains. What do we expect of floodplains? They're great places to farm or construct a park. Losing crops that most likely are insured is different than losing millions of dollars per acre of buildings and infrastructure and, in some cases, lives."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University in St. Louis. "Spring Flooding In Mid-Western US Forecast, But People Still Build On Floodplains." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401141535.htm>.
Washington University in St. Louis. (2008, April 4). Spring Flooding In Mid-Western US Forecast, But People Still Build On Floodplains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401141535.htm
Washington University in St. Louis. "Spring Flooding In Mid-Western US Forecast, But People Still Build On Floodplains." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401141535.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

AFP (July 22, 2014) As part of the 14-ship convoy that will accompany the Costa Concordia from the port of Giglio to the port of Genoa, there will be a boat carrying experts to look out for dolphins and whales from crossing the path of the Concordia. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

Spectacular Lightning Storm Hits London

AFP (July 19, 2014) A spectaCular lightning storm struck the UK overnight Friday. Images of lightning strikes over the Shard and Tower Bridge in central London. Duration: 00:23 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins