Changing Approaches for Handling the Flood Hazard

National recognition emerged in the 1950s that the structural approach to flood control was inadequate (White, 1958). This led to the development of a new thrust based on floodplain management through altering land use in floodplains and use of flood insurance, or "working with the river." The National Flood Insurance Program was established by Congress in 1968. Emerging environmental concerns in the 1960s led to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 1968, bringing environmental quality into the objectives of water and floodplain management. This new "nonstructural" comprehensive approach to mitigating flood losses has evolved over the past 30 years but not yet solved the problems—flood losses continued to grow (National Science Foundation, 1980). Major floods on the Mississippi system occurred in 1965, 1973, and 1982-1983, and flash floods killed 236 in 1 hour at Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1972, and 139 in 2 hours in Colorado in 1976. As a result, many new projects for dealing with flash floods emerged.

Relief payments to flood victims, becoming an alternative to mitigation since 1970, became an ever-increasing way to address flood damages. Special relief payment legislation was issued by Congress after each major flood during the past 20 years. This mixed approach, relief and nonstructural, has essentially replaced the expensive flood control construction program of the 1851 to 1950 period. The enormous relief costs of the 1993 flood finally brought this budget-busting problem to the forefront, leading to badly needed changes in crop insurance and flood insurance programs (Changnon, 1996b).

Government policies relating to the struggle between humans and nature in the Mississippi River system have changed immensely over the past 150 years, but none have managed to solve the flood problem in the Mississippi River system.

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