Building in floodplains will always be risky

The Mississippi has a swath of natural floodplains–ones that we keep flowing into | Photo by Tom Fisk on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 17th, 2019

Flooding risks in cities and towns along the Mississippi are only increasing with time, but this isn’t stopping some cities from continuing development along the river.

St. Louis is just one of the many places building along its floodplain, a move that many climate scientists advise against. A river’s floodplain is naturally occurring land carved out by the river’s swells and recessions, and it often ends up functioning as a buffer zone for floodwater to fill.

Around 41 million Americans live in a 100-year floodplain — areas by major rivers that have a 1% chance of flooding annually. This risk will only increase as extended rainfall becomes more and more prevalent.

Climate change and inclement weather have only increased flooding and water damage in Mississippi towns. Tropical Storm Barry, after manifesting as a hurricane on Saturday, generated rainfall that will channel up along the river, swelling the Mississippi with more water than many of the flood levees that riverside cities have constructed can likely handle.

Flood levees that block potential floodwater are a commonly implemented solution, but levees can break – -as evidenced by the temporary floodwall break in Davenport. Levees also prevent swelling rivers from spilling out into their natural floodplains, forcing the rising waters to the doorsteps of cities without adequate flood protection.

While special FEMA permits are required before cities can develop business or residential areas on floodplains and in high-risk flooding areas, some strongly believe that building in floodplains, even when precautions are taken, is always a bad idea, tempting disaster. Unless strict guidelines emerge that prevent floodplain building entirely, development in these areas will continue — albeit at the risk of becoming victim to an increasing chance of an annual rising of water.

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