AS THE Mississippi River rises to historic levels, good news seems hard to come by. The danger is so extreme that authorities are breaching levees throughout the region to relieve pressure and save populated areas. And yet it could be so much worse.
Following the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, Congress passed the Flood Control Act, establishing a system of levees, reservoirs, and floodways to better control the Mississippi. The Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to act swiftly in the event of flooding. That is the system we are seeing at work today, from Illinois to the Gulf, protecting millions from the river’s wrath.
The system is far from perfect. Recently emergency responders were using sandbags and other makeshift measures to buttress aging structures. And while levees built by the corps have failed in the past, many projects built under the Flood Control Act created a false sense of security. Many of the farmlands under water today were built on pre-designated floodways.
Nonetheless, the Flood Control Act reminds us that great tragedies can result in creative solutions. This year’s disaster should be judged not only by the damage, but also by the lives and property saved through years of foresight. If ever there was a question about the need for continuing investments in infrastructure and for advance planning for all variety of threats, this month’s flooding is bittersweet proof.