Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Geologist decries floodplain development

04.04.2008
Lessons unlearned from 1993 flood

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."

Robert Criss | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>