Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Where Did All the Money Go?
Federal Flood Protection Works
1997 July 25

The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is responsible for keeping much of America dry, including some large cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans. The cost of this work has been enormous.

Unfortunately, the ACE failed to apply a basin-wide model to flood water prediction. Long stretches of rivers such as the Mississippi have been diked, leaving floodwaters nowhere to pond. Dikes, supposedly high enough to protect during 500-year floods, have been overtopped every few decades, with enormous losses. The long dikes between the cities serve no purpose other than to allow farming of lands that would otherwise be subject to periodic flooding. In theory, the ACE has authority to dynamite these dikes during major floods, but it almost never does.

A realistic assessment of flood dynamics and the interaction of all the dikes along a river basin are essential to the development of a workable flood management policy. Thousands of miles of dikes should be cut open, which will reduce ACE maintenance costs dramatically and improve protection for the big cities.

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