Flood, Drought, Sediment Planning

Managing floods, droughts, and sediment on the Upper Mississippi River, with its vast geographic scale, tremendous economic productivity, and globally significant resources, presents extraordinary challenges and opportunities

UMRBA is bringing together those who live and work in the floodplain to improve disaster preparedness, economic growth and resilience, and ecological health.  The purposes being to a) increase the economic, ecological, and social resilience of the Upper Mississippi River to major flood events, prolonged drought, and excessive sediment; and b) foster dynamic, balanced, objective, and adaptive approaches to flood, drought, and sediment management in a multi-purpose management context.

Solutions are achievable but reside in our ability to work together and make decisions for today and the future. The discourse will be contentious and implementing solutions will always remain challenging. The issues are personal and involve peoples’ families, homes, and livelihoods as well as habitat for fish and wildlife. UMRBA is committed to providing a fair and objective forum for affected interests to learn from one another and seek opportunities to collaborate rather than conflict. We have found that many floodplain communities relate to one another through their mutual experiences living and working alongside the dynamic river-floodplain.

Objectives 

  1. Develop an integrated, comprehensive, and systems-based approach to minimize the threat to health and safety resulting from flooding by using structural and nonstructural floodplain management measures
  2. Develop new, or renew existing, comprehensive long-term channel management strategies that are sustainable, cost-effective, and ecologically sensitive
  3. Develop mitigation strategies for multi-year drought events that would increase the resilience of communities and economies adjacent to, or dependent on, the river
  4. Seek opportunities to support environmental sustainability, restoration, and water quality goals for the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers
  5. Accelerate efforts in the watershed that reduce the volume and rate of runoff to the Mississippi River

Priority Solutions

Regional Consent

UMRBA is committed to providing a fair, objective, and inclusive forum for people, communities, and businesses in the Upper Mississippi River floodplain affected by floods, droughts, and sedimentation to learn from one another and seek opportunities to collaborate.  We are adopting principles of the Systematic Development of Informed Consent (SDIC) methodology to ensure that those affected by the work are knowledgeable of, and consent to, the selected plan and the resulting impacts to them.  This SDIC methodology requires that the affected interests are involved in deliberations throughout the planning process and have ample opportunity to provide their perspectives and opinions.  It also requires that the project planners listen to, and reflect on, stakeholder input.

 

UMRBA's goals for systematic development of informed consent is to create a commonly-held vision with shared goals, objectives, and implementation strategies that are regionally supported among stakeholders.  This requires a collaborative, consent-based planning process to:

  • Build understanding and mutual acceptance and empathy of the challenges affected interests face living and working in a highly dynamic river-floodplain and ideas for addressing local and regional issues
  • Guide deliberations that foster productive discourse among affected interests and state and federal government agencies in the development of solutions and prioritization of investments
  • Improve, leverage, and better utilize knowledge that is used to inform the deliberation of solutions
  • Establish and maintain the legitimacy of the planning process, outcomes (including decisions and assumptions), and public and private agencies/entities that will work to advance the outcomes
  • Motivate productive action that advances the path forward following the plan’s acceptance

High Leverage Actions

Flooding

Better flood risk assessments and forecasting capabilities will help to reduce damages and loss of life associated with increasingly frequent and extreme flood events in the Upper Mississippi River. 

Two-dimensional hydraulic model (HEC-RAS) 

A singular hydraulic model will facilitate consistency in regulatory actions and management and policy decisions among federal and state agencies.  The HEC-RAS model will serve as a basis for informing flood forecasting, management, mapping, response, mitigation, attenuation, and ultimately, decision making related to policy and funding needs.

Flood frequency profiles 

Renewing flood frequency profiles is necessary to inform the development of a systemic plan for floodplain management, flood damage reduction planning. This includes understanding the utility of existing protection and risk reduction measures (e.g., levees) and storage areas. Frequency data is central to many floodplain management decisions related to insurance, regulations, economic analyses of projects, and risk-informed decision making.

Economic vulnerability assessment —

A comprehensive and accurate estimate of economic vulnerabilities and ensuing social and environmental impacts resulting from major flood events along the Upper Mississippi River, integrated with the updated flood frequency profiles and inundation mapping, would create an important risk assessment tool that could be used for a variety of decision-making purposes.  This assessment would describe the economic consequences of major flood events (at various levels, durations, timing) to the river’s many uses and users at the local, regional, and national scales.

Drought

A shared assessment of the watershed's unique drought characteristics and interjurisdictional management approaches will improve drought preparedness and response as well as long term planning. 

Drought characterization 

Detailed sector-specific definitions of drought onset, magnitude, and duration will inform efforts to detect, manage, and mitigate prolonged drought events. This includes how and when unique drought events might impact different water users and uses, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and local communities.  

Economic vulnerability assessment —

A comprehensive and accurate estimate of economic vulnerabilities and ensuing social and environmental impacts resulting from drought events within the Upper Mississippi River and floodplain, integrated with the assessment of various scenarios (see above), would create an important risk assessment tool that will be used for planning and decision-making purposes.  This assessment would describe the economic consequences of low water conditions and prolonged drought and resulting sediment management to the river’s many uses and users at the local, regional, and national scales.

Interstate cooperation —

The Governors share an interstate charter that includes a notification and consultation process to evaluate any potential out-of-basin water diversion requests that would equal or exceed five million gallons per day. In light of increased interest from water-deprived regions of the country to access the Upper Mississippi River’s abundant water resources, the states have directed UMRBA staff to evaluate potential changes to the agreement to ensure that the states fulfill their commitment to “conserve the levels and flows of the water resources; to protect the environmental ecosystem; to secure present development; to provide a foundation for future investment and development; and to assure all significant benefits and impacts are considered before a decision is made.”

Sediment

The greatest opportunity to ensure resilience in the 9-foot navigation channel is to guarantee designated areas to place dredged material without harming the river’s ecological or societal uses.  This requires thoughtful planning, helpful federal and state policies, and sufficient and dedicated funding. 

Planning, permitting, other agreements 

Long-range strategies facilitate proactive, cost-effective solutions for dredging and placement of dredged material and serve as the basis for efficient cooperative management between the Corps and states.  The plans consider dredging volumes, containment and stabilization of dredged material placement sites, beneficial uses for dredged material, environmentally-sound techniques and approaches (including in-river structural modifications), sediment transport, and compliance with federal and state regulations.

Dredged material marketing 

River sediment is underutilized but is useful for a variety of purposes and free of cost to users less the transportation costs from the placement sites. The intent of marketing the availability of “free” sediment is to facilitate offloading of permanent and temporary placement sites, thereby increasing the overall capacity to store sediment as it is dredged from the river channel.

Beneficial use —

Securing innovative and effective ways to utilize the dredged material for public or private use can minimize the amount of the material needing to be stored temporarily or permanently.  Beneficial use as a consistent, dependable, and actionable strategy could greatly expand the system’s capacity to absorb large sedimentation events while also avoiding, minimizing, and/or mitigating social and environmental impacts of channel management.

Watershed

The health, function, and viability of the mainstem Mississippi River reflects the performance of the watershed as a whole.  It is widely acknowledged that actions must be taken in the watershed to reduce the challenges in the river. We can both underscore the benefits of those watershed programs and projects and engage more directly in those efforts. 

Future precipitation prediction 

Regional climate analyses and predictions are important to developing integrated solutions for enhancing the river floodplain’s economic and ecological resilience. Assumptions about future rainfall will provide context for watershed-based resilience planning as well as for more immediate infrastructure, policy, and planning needs locally and regionally.  

Nutrient reduction strategies —

Projects, programs, and activities to slow the input of water and sediment from the river’s tributaries will be the most effective, long term means to alleviate the problems. This action supports the ongoing investments in primary contributing tributaries, particularly the state’s nutrient reduction strategies.

Information exchange 

Numerous individuals and organizations are investing significant amounts of resources in monitoring floodplain problems and researching solutions. There is a tremendous amount of information at our disposal, but it is what we do with that information that is most important. Ongoing, regional forums are needed to convene robust discussions to share learned information among scientists, land managers and owners, decision-makers, and interested stakeholders.

Section 729 Planning Proposal

There is a resounding agreement among the region that the status quo is not acceptable and that new systemic management approaches (or a plan) are needed for managing the river corridor given changing watershed influences.  Change is needed in policies, coordination and consultation, resources, and other management approaches.  There is a common appreciation among stakeholders that solutions will need to be complex, requiring consideration of the many uses and values of the river system.  Stakeholders have widely called for solutions to “slow the water” or “make room for the river.”  But there are sometimes conflicting recommendations for how to do that, including creating spillways, restoring floodplain forests, investing in agriculture conservation practices in the watershed, setting back levees, and more.  The planning process will guide us through a systemic, science-based evaluation of which solutions to “land use” and management are the best fit in different areas of the river floodplain, while also considering the social and economic dimensions of the problems and alternatives.   

The overall objective of UMRBA's interest in long term planning is to answer how to increase the resilience of the Upper Mississippi River to major flood events, prolonged drought, and excessive sediment for the purposes of maintaining a safe and reliable 9-foot navigation channel.  This will include evaluating:

  • Where and how should existing land uses be protected and sustained into the foreseeable future?
  • Where should land use be different?
  • What does resilient and sustainable flood, drought, and sediment look like?

We will answer questions about what contributes to flood conveyance issues, the triggers that cause the demand for water to exceed its availability, the problems that are affecting sediment management, and the economic and social vulnerabilities to flood and drought.  We will assess where the existing system provides adequate protection and where it does not provide adequate protection. Additionally, it will be important to evaluate the current barriers to implementing new approaches to managing the river.  That may include policy and funding constraints, the current governance framework, and politics, among other issues.  For example, how does the multi-jurisdictional nature of governance on the Upper Mississippi River contribute to the challenges.

Solutions will primarily focus on actions in the river-floodplain but will also illuminate where and how actions in the watershed would be most effective for improving the river’s resilience.  We will focus on answering:

  • How should and can the floodplain be altered to allow for effective conveyance of floods and deposition of sediment? 
  • Where should current land uses be protected and sustained or changed to another form into the foreseeable future?
  • How can sediment be removed from the river channel and backwaters at the rate needed to maintain an open and reliable navigation system under high and low water conditions and improve flood conveyance?  This will include an analysis of how the problems affecting sediment management can be resolved. 
  • Collectively, how can management actions minimize the economic and social vulnerabilities to flood and drought?  For example, we will consider general criteria for how water might be prioritized and allocated in a low flow situation.

Based on the selected suite of management solutions, we will examine the appropriate governing arrangements, mitigation, and resource needs and make any recommendations for policy changes.  Additionally, we will quantify and qualify the benefits of the selected solutions and determine metrics for evaluating progress in advancing those management solutions.

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