Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Floodplain Development is Booming in Missouri

by Emily Gertz
Grist
March 19, 2008

Once it was a cornfield; now it's a Wal-Mart, a Taco Bell, a Target. Here along a stretch of Missouri's Highway 40, in the Chesterfield Valley area just west of downtown St. Louis, what's said to be the largest strip mall in the country sits on about 46 acres of Mississippi River bottomlands. Less than 20 years ago, the land was open space.

It's been fifteen years since the Great Flood of 1993 put this land under 10 feet of water. Since then, thousands of acres of floodplain in the St. Louis area have been built up with strip malls, office and industrial parks, and 28,000 new homes. And all this infrastructure depends on miles and miles of levees to hold back the Mississippi and Missouri rivers the next time they try to retake the land.

If you ignore the historical tendency of the Mississippi and Missouri to periodically drown it, this vast, flat landscape does present an appealing canvas for building. "When you have such an expansive floodplain, people don't have a problem with building on the fringes," says Dan Burkemper, director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. "And then the fringe moves closer to the river every day."

The Flood of 1993 was one of the most destructive in the recorded history of the Mississippi Basin: nearly 50 people were killed, over 70,000 evacuated, and 50,000 homes damaged on over 17 million acres (close to 27,000 square miles) across nine states. Over 16,000 square miles of working cropland was flooded, at a loss of more than $5 billion. All told, the flood caused around $16 billion in damage.

Read more here.


©2008 Grist Magazine, Inc.

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