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Farming Causes Floods

The floods that are devastating Midwestern communities and that threaten St. Louis have been blamed on a 500-year storm. Joel Achenbach, who once wrote a popular column called Why Things Are, tells us this morning that it's just possible the floods are our own fault.

This assertion, which Achenbach carefully qualifies and explains, has produced a first-rate conversation among our Readers Who Comment. A few, of course, think he is nuts and the Post is a some sort enviro-Nazi tool for running the article. But many expand thoughtfully on the proposition, which, stripped to its basics, suggests that if you drain enough wetlands and turn them into farms, and if you build in flood plains, you have messed with the natural order and will ultimately have to pay.

Some blame the government for not improving levees, noting that weak levees were a part of the Katrina disaster and that very little has been done to improve the situation elsewhere in the Mississippi drainage. Those who live in drought-stricken parts of the country wonder if there isn't some way they could get a little of that water. And there is concern that this is all part of the global warming issue and that we have yet to truly understand the costs of what we have created and what it will take to fix it.

We'll start with yoschoharo, who wrote, "Wow! A very informative article and great postings (for the most part). I grew up on farm land in upstate New York and observed first-hand the cycles of drought and flood. The principles discussed in this article used to be the basics of 8th grade geography, but it seems that we need to be reminded of them over and over..."

zennhead614wheatland said, "Regardless of whether Global Warming or a composite of various ill conceived farming practices, this is going to be a very costly flood for the citizens of Iowa... I think we're coming up against limited resources finally, and the costs of dealing with them will be enormous, and drive serious changes in the way we live."

caribissaid, "You have your head in the mud if you don't think land use affects the rate of runoff. All you have to do is measure water temperature in streams after a rain. The water in a stream with lots of vegetative barriers is lower than one running through a plowed field or subdivision... You can have a long flood with a lower crest or a fast flood with a higher crest. Zone your land accordingly."

Lilly1 wrote, "The water has to go somewhere when levees have altered the natural flood plains. It's past time to restore some of these areas to wetlands to provide both water quantity and quality control."

But zunguri said, "Thanks for the laugh! I can always count on the post for a wacko theory. You should really talk to the "researchers" up at UC-Berkeley more often. It would make your paper much more entertaining."

And krushX wrote, "The solution is obvious: time to sacrifice a virgin to the gods and burn the witches. What is most annoying about this piece is that there is hardly a drop of counter argument and not a single quantification..."

paulc37 said, "...We have played with Mother nature in a very short time and big way the past few years and the whole world is paying a fuel/food and global CO2 altering, price in a very very short period from this radical man made/self induced altering."

cpwash wrote, "... did you note that our Southwest has a drought? You could put in aquiducts to move some of the water out that way. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had such systems, so we ought to be able to do something if we put our minds to it."

WilliamBlake said, "Too bad there is no way to divert those flood waters to the Colorado river, we could use it to begin refilling lake powell."

Omyobama wrote, :..Overdevelopment, rural and urban both, have many unintended consequences that have gotten short shrift in... re-zoning and development determinations. We better start putting some priority on these water issues. And I say this as a Californian who's just been notified the Gov. has declaared a drought here. God help us all."

swatkins1 said, "But the gays are getting married in California! Why is God punishing the neo-conservative midwest?"

GaryEMasters wrote:
Changes can be measured and compensating factors introduced into the environment. This is a failure of planning. There should be a place for every drop of rain that falls."

kdhcherry said, "A great in-depth critique of our misguided water "engineering" practices. They brought us the Katrina destruction of New Orleans and they contribute to any flood problems in the Mississippi-Ohio river valleys... Keep up the good work of piling small sandbags like this against the flood of our ignorance."

Pearl77 agreed, writing, "Nature created wetlands to disperse water in events like the "500 year flood". When we decide to pave over the wetlands, or drain them to plant crops, we risk what we are seeing. Whether in New Orleans or Cedar Rapids, these disasters will continue to occur because we have decided to build in Nature's sewer."

george11 said, "People build in flood plains, and then wonder why they flood. Idiots who call themselves "experts" blame development for a natural event. Levees increase the height of the river."

Last word goes to ucantmakeitup, who wrote, "It's not called a flood plain for nothing."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  June 19, 2008; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Environment  
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