[Marxism] Development led to floods

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 18 07:30:53 MDT 2008


Why flooding worsens

Development, farm practices, and population growth have increased the 
risk of flooding.
By Richard Mertens | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / 
June 17, 2008 edition


Up and down the flood-ravaged river valleys of the upper Midwest, high 
water has inflicted billions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses, 
and crops. It has displaced tens of thousands of families and brought 
immeasurable suffering. It has also brought a new concern for the 
region’s river towns and cities: Flooding in the Midwest seems to be 
getting worse.

Researchers and other observers say such episodes are likely to worsen 
as efforts to protect vulnerable communities are outpaced by factors 
that increase the risk of flooding, including the ongoing practice of 
building on river flood plains.

“We’re probably more at risk than we’ve ever been,” says Larry Larson, 
executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, 
based in Madison, Wis.

Most cities and towns in the Midwest lie along rivers and streams. 
Hydrologists and planners say that the cumulative effects of decades of 
land-use choices have gradually increased the likelihood of flooding. 
Throughout Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, for example, much farmland is 
drained by buried tiles that carry rainwater quickly away from the 
fields into streams and rivers. Population growth, bringing new highways 
and subdivisions, increases runoff. And communities keep building on 
flood plains, which not only puts new development at risk but also 
reduces the amount of flood plain available to absorb floodwater.

In many communities, levees protect low-lying neighborhoods and 
farmland. “America has had a love affair with levees since the 1800s,” 
says Marceto Garcia, professor of civil and environmental engineering at 
the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. But levees cause new 
problems by confining rivers and increasing flooding in other stretches.

“The water has to go somewhere,” says Douglas Johnston, chairman of the 
community and regional planning department at Iowa State University in 
Ames. “It will go higher and faster downstream. Any defensive measure 
taken upstream will only heighten the problem downstream.”

Levees also leave some people with a false sense of security. In some 
cases, experts say, homeowners don’t know that their houses are at risk 
of flooding.

Experts also fault poor local planning. They say that economic and 
political pressures in many cases cause communities to slight 
flood-plain management for fear of hurting economic growth. In addition, 
they say, communities typically plan for present conditions without 
taking into account future growth and developments upstream that may 
create worse flooding – and worse damage – in the future.

“We have as a nation spent increasing amounts of money on preventing 
floods, and yet the cost of flooding continues to rise dramatically,” 
says Andrew Fahlund, vice president for conservation at American Rivers, 
an environmental advocacy group based in Washington. “Clearly we’re not 
doing something right. Certain kinds of flooding are going to be pretty 
much unavoidable. When water levels get to a certain point it’s pretty 
difficult to prevent damage. Our hearts go out to people who have been 
impacted by all this. The fact is that we have reduced the capacity our 
rivers have to absorb these floods significantly.”

Climate change has recently cast a new and disturbing uncertainty over 
flood-management questions by suggesting that history may be an 
unreliable guide to the future. Kenneth Potter, a civil and 
environmental engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says many 
scientists agree that climate change is likely to increase the 
occurrence and severity of storms as well as droughts, and thus increase 
the likelihood of flooding.

“The question is, are you going to face that once a century or once 
every 10 years?” he asks.

Ten months ago, Gays Mills, Wis., suffered what was then the biggest 
flood in memory. Then, a week and a half ago, monsoon-like rains lashed 
the region, and an even worse flood washed through town.

Now, as the mud dries and local businesses like Mickelson’s grocery 
store reopen, residents are feeling vulnerable.

“After last year, we all kind of relaxed,” says village president Larry 
McCarn. “We all figured it would be a while before it happened again. 
Now people are saying it could happen next week.”

After the last major Midwest flood in 1993, some lessons were learned, 
experts say. In Iowa, Johnston said, some communities raised their 
levees, which helped them survive this year’s flood.

Other lessons went unheeded. The Clinton administration commissioned a 
major study of the flooding that, among other things, recommended an 
overhaul of flood management and closer coordination of state, local, 
and national efforts. “In terms of national policy since 1993, there has 
not been significant change,” says Mr. Larson.

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