Flood Reduction through Wetland Restoration: The Upper Mississippi River Basin as a Case History

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Abstract

Despite this nation's massive effort during the past 90 years to build levees throughout the upper Mississippi Basin, mean annual flood damage in the region has increased 140% during that time. These levees exacerbate the flood damage problem by increasing river stage and velocity. Thus, rather than continuing to rely on structural solutions for flood control, it is time to develop a comprehensive flood management strategy that includes using wetlands to intercept and hold precipitation where it falls and store flood waters where they occur. History testifies to the truth of this premise: it was the rampant drainage of wetlands in the nineteenth century that gave rise to many of today's water resources management problems. The 1993 flood verifies the need for additional wetlands: the amount of excess water that passed St. Louis during the 1993 flood would have covered a little more than 13 million acres —half of the wetland acreage drained since 1780 in the upper Mississippi Basin. By strategically placing at least 13 million acres of wetlands on hydric soils in the basin, we can solve the basin's flooding problems in an ecologically sound manner.

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