Natural Solutions for an Unnatural Disaster?

05.19.2011 | In Science, Uncategorized

The Morganza Spillway, May 16, 2011 (photo courtesy of the State of Louisiana)

As the Mississippi River reaches historic flood levels, local communities and the entire nation watch and wait, hoping the levees will hold and that catastrophic flooding will be avoided.  The safety of the people and towns along the Mississippi is the government’s first priority.  But after the floodwaters recede, there will be tough questions to answer regarding river management and preventing future natural disasters.  Was this flooding truly a natural disaster, or did poor government policies cause it or at least exacerbate it?

In light of these questions, the National Wildlife Federation released a new report promoting the protection and restoration of natural flood defenses.  The report identifies five ways government policies and practices are contributing to the extraordinary flooding and resulting impacts, as well as five specific recommendations to help policymakers avoid and minimize catastrophes like this one.

The report identifies the top five activities that exacerbate flood damages and risks as:

1. Poor federal planning and management
2. Wetlands and stream destruction
3. Floodplain development
4. Poor agricultural practices
5. Failure to regulate carbon pollution

The top five recommendations to protect communities and reduce flood damages are:

1. Modernize federal water policy guidelines
2. Protect wetlands and streams from development
3. Reform the national flood insurance program (NFIP)
4. Modernize farming practices and policies
5. Reduce carbon pollution

The report concludes that the “business as usual” approach to managing the river cannot continue.  The aging Mississippi River levee system is strained, and the delta and wetlands are disconnected from the river.  Now is the time to rethink how we manage the Mississippi River, to commit to restoring our natural defenses.  This change would reduce the pressure on levees and the risk to communities, while sustaining and renewing the river’s floodplain, wetlands, and the health of the entire Mississippi River basin.

Read and download the full report “Mississippi River Flooding: Natural Solutions for an Unnatural Disaster” at