Should We Follow the Dutch and Give Land Back to the Flooding Mississippi River?

Rather than battle rivers with expensive dikes and levees and canals, the Dutch give them more room to flow freely. Maybe we could learn from them.

This morning, the Mississippi River crested in Memphis, rising just shy of the all-time record height of 48.7 feet set during the great 1937 flood. The river, normally half a mile wide at Memphis, is now about three miles wide.

The only reason that this flood didn't set a new record was because the Army Corps of Engineers blasted levees and opened up two "floodways." The first was upriver, near Cairo, Illinois. As I wrote last week, this levee breach flooded thousands of acres of farmland in Missouri. (You can see incredible before and after satellite photos here.) While it seems like a tragedy for the Missouri farmers, in fact, flooding their land is exactly what's supposed to happen in this sort of storm. These floodways are part of the Army Corps' actual engineering plan. There's a reason the Army Corps calls this action "activating the floodway."

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