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Snorkel Time

A car drives through the flooded intersection of West Route 66 and Milton Road after heavy monsoon rains.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, July 12:

Flood management is an issue that should worry Republican and Democratic members of Congress with equal intensity. Persistent river flooding, including the record water levels that inundated the region exactly 25 years ago this month, has cost billions of dollars and led to untold human suffering. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Mississippi River seem to recognize the need for solutions.

Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin of Illinois favor inserting language into the Water Resources Development Act aimed at requiring an independent study of the effects on flooding and animal habitats by various Army Corps of Engineers projects in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Illinois and Missouri suffer the brunt of Mississippi flooding, so they have a vested interest in finding ways to limit the damage.

The region has suffered nine great floods in the past 102 years — far exceeding the designation each flood has received as a “once-in-a-century” event. A system of Corps-constructed levees, dams and dikes in the region, installed to “retrain” the river, is the target of much debate. Some critics charge that Corps projects could actually be worsening the effects of flooding.

If that’s the case, it means that your taxpayer dollars are going toward projects that could send flood waters into your house or farm property. In other words, you get to pay to have your livelihood destroyed and your family endangered. It only seems logical to subject these projects to independent scrutiny before embarking on more of them.

The Corps recommended in May 2017 proceeding full speed ahead with a 15-year construction plan to bolster the more-than 1,375 river-training structures already installed in the middle-Mississippi region. But the National Wildlife Federation, among other groups, favors inserting wording into the 2018 Water Resources Development Act imposing a moratorium on some projects pending a full-blown independent study by the National Academy of Sciences.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is opposed to the insert, and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has not taken a clear stand. A full Senate vote on the act is imminent.

The House version won wide bipartisan support, but it doesn’t contain language requiring the study. It does contain language imposing a detailed cost-benefit study by the National Academy of Sciences on Corps projects, making clear that both parties want more scrutiny.

The Corps has a multi-decade plan to rechannel major river waters to reduce the cost of dredging operations. Blunt’s aides say he regards the Corps projects as vital infrastructure that should not be delayed.

But if those projects are contributing to the flooding problem, why risk it? Existing studies strongly suggest they are contributing, but we’ll never know for sure unless a comprehensive study addresses the question. The time to be seeking answers is now.

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