Position of the Upper Mississippi
River Basin Association
Flood Response and Recovery in the Wake
of the 2008 Flooding
An Update to UMRBA’s 1993 Flood
September 17, 2008
spring and summer of 2008 have once again been marked by significant flooding
on the Upper Mississippi River and many of its
tributaries, with flood stages exceeding record levels in many areas. Damages to homes, businesses, crops, and
public infrastructure are extensive, as is the toll in terms of human suffering
and disruption to communities. The
economic damages are still being assessed, but are well into the billions. Immediate relief efforts are underway, and
have been providing significant assistance.
However, flooding of this magnitude and geographic extent raises broader
challenges as well. As the organization
formed to represent the Governors of Illinois, Iowa,
and Wisconsin on a wide range of Upper Mississippi River issues, the Upper Mississippi
River Basin Association (UMRBA) spoke to many of these same challenges in the
wake of the 1993 flood. This current
statement is intended as an update to that 1993 document, informed by the insights
gained in the interim.
Following the 1993 flood,
UMRBA identified a series of key principles to guide that flood response and
recovery effort. They included the
genuine, comprehensive options for flood recovery and risk reduction — provide communities and landowners with the
planning assistance and time needed to explore available options; ensure
sufficient flexibility that supports innovative and locally appropriate
flood control and floodplain management measures; and modify programs to
increase the potential for environmental resource enhancement in
conjunction with flood recovery and risk reduction.
damaged levees — repair and
restore damaged levees to their pre-flood condition, where that is the
building restrictions — enforce
requirements for communities participating in the National Flood Insurance
Program, including the requirement that substantially damaged structures
be elevated above the 100-year flood as part of repair or reconstruction.
- Limit future damages behind agricultural levees — limit future damages to habitable structures
behind levees that do not provide 100-year protection by encouraging
public purchase of flood prone structures, demolition of structures, and
conversion of sites to flood-compatible uses.
floodway encroachments — enforce
regulations that prohibit construction of new floodway encroachments that
raise flood stages.
opportunities to modify levees —
devise and implement levee modification projects where economically and
environmentally feasible and where property rights issues have been
UMRBA believes these
fundamental principles are equally valid in 2008 and should guide the response
and recovery efforts following this year’s flooding.
In addition to the key
principles described above, there are important lessons to be learned from the
2008 flood. Some of these lessons
reinforce the fundamental principles articulated following the 1993 flooding, while
others point to additional needs and insights.
These lessons include the following:
risk reduction efforts pay off —
following the 1993 flood, all levels of government, as well as businesses
and individual landowners, made significant investments in reducing
vulnerability to future floods.
Examples of these investments included the relocation of entire
communities, conversion of uses behind agricultural levees, relocation of
key public infrastructure such as drinking water supplies, and
modification of countless individual structures. The 2008 flood brought similar, and
even higher, river stages to many areas that were devastated in 1993. The payoff on flood risk reduction
investments was significant in terms of damages avoided this year.
are many more opportunities for flood damage reduction — despite the kinds of payoffs noted above, this
year’s flooding also provided many examples of the human and financial
costs associated with repetitive loss structures, which again accounted
for a significant share of damages.
Continued investment in flood damage reduction and enforcement of
building restrictions are critical to making progress with these
repetitive loss structures.
strong river gauging system is essential — limited river gauging information constrained
the National Weather Service and others in developing timely and accurate
river stage forecasts during this year’s flooding. This experience underscores the need to
reverse the trend of recent years, during which federal support for the
USGS-operated system of river gauges has eroded and non-federal partners
have not been able to fill the gaps completely. Adequate and reliable federal funding is
essential to maintaining the robust regional gauging system needed to help
ensure public safety on the Upper Mississippi River
and its tributaries.
should be integrated to maximize effectiveness — there are many potential tools available to
help communities and landowners in their flood recovery and flood risk
reduction efforts. In addition to
the well-known national programs of FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, these
include i) the NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Protection program for
purchasing floodplain easements; ii) emergency supplemental funding that
may be made available to resource agencies for land and easement
acquisitions that provide both ecosystem and flood damage reduction
benefits; and iii) the Corps of Engineers’ recently enacted Navigation and
Ecosystem Sustainability Program, which includes authority for 35,000
acres of floodplain restoration on the Upper Mississippi River
System. Coordination and
integration are essential to maximizing the efficacy of these tools. Toward this end, UMRBA appreciates the
Corps of Engineers’ leadership in establishing a regional Interagency
Levee Task Force and parallel interagency working groups for each of the
are important unanswered questions —
as UMRBA noted in 1993, every record breaking flood event presents a need
to review the accuracy of the stage-discharge, discharge-frequency, and
stage-frequency relations that underpin flood control planning, floodplain
regulation, and flood insurance ratings.
Considerable work was done in these areas following 1993. However, this work should be assessed
against our experience in 2008, with particular attention to whether
changes in land use patterns and, potentially, climate are fundamentally
altering any of these relationships.