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Developments on Missouri River Could Exacerbate Flooding

Floods in the Midwest this year have been deadly and, for some, conjured memories of the Great Flood of 1993. (Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson/U.S. Air National Guard)
Floods in the Midwest this year have been deadly and, for some, conjured memories of the Great Flood of 1993. (Tech. Sgt. Patrick Evenson/U.S. Air National Guard)
September 6, 2019

ST. LOUIS – After devastating and historic floods this year, critics of new developments on the Missouri River fear they could send the waters higher.

On the banks of the Missouri near St. Louis, proposals for developments by Bangert Island and in Maryland Heights would be across the river from each other and built on important floodplains.

As executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, David Stokes says the science is clear that more building on the river's natural floodplain will exacerbate the region's flooding issues – but local governments seem to be taking little note.

"One day, I'm going to go to a city council meeting or a county commission meeting where they make the quorum by hooking together their lifeboats,” says Stokes. “And then at that meeting, while they hook together their lifeboats, I swear somebody's going to approve a new floodplain development proposal – and they're not going to see any connection."

Stokes likens this issue to a three-legged stool – overdevelopment of the floodplain is one leg, making floods worse. The other two are too many levees, which channel the river faster and higher, and climate change, which causes more precipitation.

Officials in Maryland Heights, in Saint Louis County, still are looking for approval for development in an area that's flooded three of the last five years. This year, a nearby lake flooded when overflow couldn't be pumped back into the Missouri, where waters were too high.

Officials say they plan to develop the area in a safe and smart manner. But Caroline Pufalt, who volunteers with the Sierra Club's Missouri chapter, thinks the plan is dangerous.

"They're planning a housing development in an area where they know these houses are going to be flooded,” says Pufalt. “They cannot plan for basements in these houses because of the groundwater. They realize they have a huge drainage issue in this area."

One solution, according to Stokes, is restoring as much floodplain and wetland acreage as possible.

"That's no magic bean,” says Stokes. “You can't just put a few acres out there and expect the floods to go away. But in the long run, giving the rivers room to roam, to connect to their natural floodplains, is the only way that you're going to address these flooding issues."

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Missouri Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MO