More Options than Levees

by Matthew Glans on February 23, 2011

Out of the FIRE has covered the issue of levee certification and the role of levees in flood mitigation in several posts over the past few months. In East St. Louis, local officials are voicing their concerns over the changing role of earmarks in federal legislation and the effect the loss of earmark revenue could have on the repair of levees in the East St. Louis area.

In a new piece published late last week in the Belleville News Democrat, I address these concerns and discuss the continued reliance on levees in the flood management strategies in many states, including Illinois and Missouri. I argue that it’s time for regulators to adopt a new strategy that de-emphasizes levees, discourages river front and coastal development, and encourages mitigation measures to protect homes.

My letter, “More Options Than Levees,” was originally published in the Belleville News Democrat on February 18 and is available online at

More Options than Levees
By Matthew Glans

State and federal budget issues could create a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the role levees will play in the nation’s flood mitigation strategy. While many areas — including East St. Louis — do need levee repairs (“End of earmarks threatens levee repairs in metro-east,” Jan. 30), levees are not the only mitigation solution available.

Quite often, building levees to protect one area can make flooding worse in another. In many places, leaving flood plains in their natural state (or something close to it) can do more to protect inland residents than any amount of levee construction.

For more than a century, the United States has attempted to control water almost entirely with levees and other structural means. During that time, the cost of flood damage has more than tripled in inflation-adjusted terms.

The country needs policies that don’t rely on government to protect people from all floods, but instead acknowledge that some areas are likely to flood, and if people choose to build there they should do so entirely at their own risk.

If the government gets involved, it should work to help people strengthen their houses and preserve natural habitats — not build new levees.

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