Position of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association


Flood Response and Recovery after the 1993 Flood


(September 1, 1993)



The spring and summer of 1993 have been marked by record flooding on the Upper Mississippi River and many of its tributaries. This flood has been a disaster of enormous proportions for many communities in the Upper Midwest and for the region's citizens. With billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, and crops and thousands of lives disrupted, the need for immediate relief is very real and assistance efforts are already underway. As federal, state, and local governments begin the process of repairing flood damage and helping those who have been displaced, there exists a unique opportunity to explore the full range of alternative flood damage reduction and floodplain management measures, with the challenge being to find ways to both minimize future flood damages and enhance the ecological integrity of the river system. Therefore, it is with concern for both the immediate needs of the region's residents and the establishment of a sound long-term policy approach to flood damage reduction in the region that the five states of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) offer the following position statement.


Offering Genuine Options


Under the current system, legal, institutional, and financial constraints may lead communities, levee districts, and individual landowners to conclude that the only way to ensure their safety and economic well-being is through immediate levee rebuilding and enhancement. In order to ensure a meaningful exploration of flood damage reduction alternatives in both the short and long term, it is imperative that communities be offered genuine options. Options are meaningful only in so far as local communities are fully aware of their existence, have the capacity to evaluate them, and can be assured that they will be readily available. It is therefore imperative that federal and state agencies better coordinate their efforts by providing local communities with a comprehensive picture of available options rather than a series of complex and often confusing programs in isolated succession. In addition, new measures will be required to give communities the time and resources needed to evaluate their alternatives. Particularly helpful in this regard may be financial or technical assistance for local planning and guarantees that any additional damages incurred while alternatives are being evaluated will be fully compensated. Finally, there needs to be financial assistance to support innovative and locally appropriate flood control and floodplain management measures and program modifications to increase the potential for environmental resource enhancement. In areas where immediate levee repair is clearly required and desirable, those repairs should not foreclose future alternatives.


Repair of Damaged Levees


One of the options available to communities is certainly the repair and restoration of damaged levees to the pre-flood condition as authorized under P.L. 84-99. That law authorizes the Corps of Engineers to repair and restore federal levees at 100 percent federal cost and non-federal levees in the federal inspection program with a 20 percent non-federal cost share. Given the number of failed and damaged agricultural levees, many communities and levee districts will be interested in exploring their alternatives under the P.L. 84-99 program. For communities and levee districts that request repair of eligible levees, the UMRBA supports completion of these repairs as soon as possible in order to protect leveed areas from flooding next spring. While repair may be economical for the near future, the UMRBA also encourages future feasibility studies of levee modification alternatives (see levee modification discussion below).


Building Restrictions


All counties and municipalities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program must regulate repair and reconstruction of damaged buildings in conformance with FEMA and state requirements. The most important requirement is that substantially damaged structures can only be rebuilt if elevated above the 100-year flood. As a result, many of these structures will not be rebuilt in the floodplain. The UMRBA supports enforcement of rebuilding restrictions.


Rebuilding Behind Agricultural Levees


Levees protecting agricultural areas are designed to provide a relatively low level of protection, usually no more than the 50-year flood. As a result, the protected areas are designated special flood hazard areas for habitable structures on federal flood insurance rate maps. No new structures can be built unless elevated above the 100-year flood. The long-term goal of state and local floodplain regulations and the National Flood Insurance Program is to have all habitable structures abandoned or protected to the 100-year flood levels. The UMRBA encourages public purchase of floodprone structures, demolition of structures, and conversion of sites to flood-compatible use.


Floodway Encroachments


Federal, state, and local floodplain regulations prohibit construction of significant new encroachments in floodways. As a result, construction of new levees or upgrading of existing levees cannot be allowed unless the encroachment effects are mitigated. The UMRBA supports enforcement of restrictions on floodway encroachments.


Levee Modification


Any significant reduction in floodway encroachments and restoration of floodplain storage will reduce future flood stages. Purposeful modification of selected levees can provide flood damage reduction benefits. If land use is converted to floodplain lakes, wetlands, and forests, there will be major environmental benefits as well. These opportunities to integrate enhanced flood protection with improved ecosystem management on the region's major rivers are promising and should be explored further as part of the range of alternatives available to local communities and levee districts. However, levee modification proposals must be based on sound science (see flood routing models discussion below) and must be cost effective. Current landowners must be fully compensated for any loss in value and implications of any property devaluation for the local tax base must also be fully considered. As a general principle, the UMRBA believes federal flood control, agricultural, and fish and wildlife agencies in cooperation with states, local communities, and levee districts should devise and implement levee modification projects where economically and environmentally feasible and where property rights issues have been satisfactorily resolved.


Flood Routing Models


Every record breaking flood event presents a need to review the accuracy of stage-discharge, discharge-frequency, and stage-frequency relations which have been used for flood control planning, floodplain regulations, and flood insurance rating purposes.* The simplified hydraulic models which have been used on Mississippi River with simplified assumptions regarding levee overtopping may not be as conservative as once believed. For example, current stage-frequency relations rate the flood crest near Quincy as a 500-year event, yet some nearby agricultural levees designed for a 50-year event did not overtop. The UMRBA recommends that state and federal agencies evaluate the feasibility and cost of preparing new flood routing models capable of more accurately simulating levee overtopping. Such models will also facilitate the evaluation of potential levee modification projects.




* Upper Mississippi River Water Surface Profiles, River Mile 0.0 to River Mile 847.5, Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission, Technical Floodplain Management Task Force, 1979.





Upper Mississippi River Basin Association

Flood Response and Recovery

Position Statement


(October 1993)







Flexibility and Alternatives



The midwest flood of 1993 offers an extraordinary opportunity to reshape the flood protection strategies in the region to more effectively reduce future damages and to enhance the integrity of the rivers' natural systems. This opportunity will be lost if floodplain residents and local communities are not offered genuine options during the process of flood recovery. Those options include relocation, buy-outs, floodproofing, greenways, and wetland restoration, in addition to structural measures such as levees and floodwalls. However, for these options to be meaningful, floodplain residents and local communities must be aware of their existence, have the capacity to evaluate them, and be assured that the alternatives will be available to them. In order to ensure that these three conditions are met, the UMRBA recommends the following:





A comprehensive package of information describing all major federal assistance programs should be developed. It should include both structural and nonstructural alternatives under the authority of all federal agencies. Funding authority specifically addressed in P.L. 103-75 as well as other long-standing programs that have potential application to floodplain and watershed restoration should be included. It may be particularly helpful to design information packages tailored to the specific needs and options available to the agricultural community and to urban residents and local government. The description of each alternative grant-in-aid or technical assistance program should include information on:

-      program purpose

-      applicability to flood recovery and flood damage reduction

-      eligibility requirements

-      cost-share requirements

-      procedures for application

-      points of contact in appropriate federal agency


Each basin state should develop an information package, similar to the one recommended above for federal programs, to comprehensively describe state programs, grants, and technical assistance which may be available for structural and nonstructural flood damage reduction alternatives.


A flood "clearing-house" should be created to disseminate information regarding available alternatives and technical assistance. In addition, a series of workshops in each of the basin states would be helpful in enhancing public understanding of available options, their relationship to flood damage reduction, and their environmental benefits.





Any disaster supplemental appropriations bill should include funding for planning and technical assistance to states and local communities. Small communities in particular may lack sufficient planning resources to fully evaluate their alternatives and undertake a meaningful and comprehensive planning process. This is especially true given the fact that many of the options which they may wish to explore could have impacts on the larger hydrologic dynamics of the system. In addition, urgent short-term disaster recovery demands have put a tremendous burden on limited local resources, constraining local capacity to engage in deliberative long term planning.





Administrative and/or legislative action should be taken to provide increased flexibility in the use of funds provided under P.L. 103-75. Specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Soil Conservation Service should be provided with discretionary authority to utilize funds appropriated under P.L. 103-75 for nonstructural flood control alternatives where such alternatives would equal or reduce the long-term federal costs associated with structural flood damage reduction measures and where the affected community or land-owner prefers the nonstructural alternative.


Additional funds should be made available in a disaster supplemental bill for buy-outs, relocation, floodproofing, and other nonstructural alternatives including wetlands restoration. Particularly high priority programs would include the Corps of Engineers Section 1135 program, the Corps of Engineers P.L. 84-99 program (if flexibility were available in the use of those funds), HUD's Community Block Grant Program, FEMA's Section 404 Mitigation Grant Program, SCS's Small Watershed and Wetland Reserve programs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Wildlife Program, and the National Park Service's Rivers and Trails Program.






Comprehensive Basin Planning and Management



The midwest floods of 1993 have generated a new interest in comprehensive basin studies, planning efforts, and management philosophies. Since the Water Resources Council and River Basin Commissions were terminated in 1981, there are no longer regional bodies responsible for unifying federal policy and coordinating state and federal programs in this country's major river basins, including the Upper Mississippi River Basin. While organizations such as the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association were established to fill the void and maintain a forum for regional discussions, they have neither the resources nor the authority to engage in many of the comprehensive planning and management ventures that are now being advocated.


A variety of approaches for undertaking basin-wide studies or developing long-term multi-purpose management strategies have been proposed in response to the 1993 flood. They include studies under the leadership of single federal agencies, an interagency investigation under NEPA, a policy review by an ad-hoc interagency working group, plan developed by a blue ribbon commission, and an independent evaluation such as a National Academy of Sciences study.


While the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association believes that a variety of immediate actions are required to respond to the post-flood needs in the region, the Association also supports a comprehensive study and evaluation of future management options. Such a review should have the following characteristics:


Interagency Federal Leadership

No single federal agency possesses the expertise, perspective, or credibility to undertake this effort unilaterally, nor to take leadership responsibility in an interagency format. In addition, one of the fundamental problems in river basin management is the absence of unified federal policy. Therefore, any new comprehensive planning venture should be under the direction of an interagency task force or commission. At a minimum, representation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Department of Transportation should be included.


State and Local Participation

All basin states should be equal partners in the deliberations. In addition, local units of government including municipalities and counties should be represented, either directly by a select number of affected communities or by representation from an association of counties or municipalities. States and local units of government are directly responsible for many of the government programs that affect rivers, floodplains, watersheds, and general land use. In addition, they are frequently partners in federal programs. In any case, their intimate and direct involvement in shaping the future management of the river system is essential to the success of any such venture.


Public Involvement

Mechanisms for meaningful public involvement must be incorporated into the planning process. Such involvement must extend from the scoping of alternatives to the formulation of recommendations. It must also include floodplain residents and river users as well as organized stakeholders such as business, agriculture, transportation, and environmental interest groups.


Ecosystem Management

Flood damage reduction should not be the singular focus of a systemwide planning and management enterprise. The health and integrity of the basin's natural systems is more than a secondary benefit of many of the floodplain and watershed management alternatives that will undoubtedly be explored. Natural resource managers in this basin have long argued that an integrated system-wide strategy for managing the river ecosystem is desperately needed. Floodplain restoration, wetlands restoration, main stem water level fluctuations, and riparian land acquisition are all integral components of both flood damage reduction strategies and ecosystem management. Therefore, flood damage reduction and ecosystem management needs must be considered in tandem in the context of multi-objective planning.


Watershed Focus

Flood damage reduction and ecosystem planning cannot be successfully accomplished in the context of floodplains alone. A basinwide framework must be employed with consideration given to the unique needs and opportunities in sub-basins or smaller watersheds as well.


Scientific Understanding

Any exercise in formulating future river management policies and strategies must be informed by scientific understanding of river system dynamics. In particular, up-to-date hydraulic models need to be developed and utilized in the planning process. More sophisticated flood-routing models that can accurately predict levee over-topping and flows into and out of floodplain storage are required. Such a model could be used to revise regulatory flood profiles, delineate regulatory floodways, improve flood forecasting, and evaluate the flood-attenuating effects of selected levee modification.


Time Frame

Many of the issues which a comprehensive planning effort might address should be resolved as soon as possible to provide a framework for flood recovery efforts associated with the 1993 flood. However, formulation of a comprehensive future vision that fully integrates flood damage reduction, ecosystem restoration needs, navigation considerations, and other relevant river management questions is a complex undertaking that will require a longer time frame if it is to be meaningful. Therefore, consideration should be given to prioritizing the planning effort within both a short and long term scale.


Planning and Implementation

Linkages between planning and subsequent implementation of recommended actions and policies is critical. Participants in the planning and study process must have the capacity to effectuate the resulting program and policy reforms. In addition, consideration should be given to a future interagency mechanism for delivery of services and integrated management, as a transition from short term planning exercises to on-going basin management needs.