The dangers of 'flood prevention'

By Bob McNitt

Outdoors Writer

The soggy events of recent days is a liquid reminder that nature can, at any time, inundate us with such a surplus of precipitation that streams and rivers overflow and basements of structures can be transformed into indoor wading and swimming pools while lawns and fields become shallow lakes. We all know the negatives that flooding can bring, but are there any benefits to it? Of course there are. However, contemporary society tends to concentrate primarily on eliminating them, often unsuccessfully.

Natural flooding on our planet has been occurring ever since water vapors first rose to form clouds which then released it in the form of rain. Floods move and distribute large amounts of water and suspended sediment over surrounding areas which helps replenish valuable topsoil components and can keep the elevation of lands above sea level. The best example is the Mississippi delta - at least before massive manmade control measures were adopted all along the river's length to discourage flooding.

For thousands of years, the delta of the Mississippi River grew, each year forming a few square miles of new land in the Gulf of Mexico. But the trend began reversing about 1900; as manmade flood control projects were constructed all along the river. In recent years, Louisiana loses about 60 square miles of its wetlands each year, and in some areas the shoreline retreats 30 yards annually. Louisiana, which contains 40 percent of the wetlands in the US, suffers about 80 percent of this country's total wetlands loss.

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