Coalition Report

By Brad Walker
Missouri Coalition
For The Environment

This is a story about an unrelenting water project that should never have been approved.

The Missouri Bootheel, once one of the largest bottom land forests and wetlands (some call swamps) in the country, is home of the New Madrid Floodway. The Floodway is 133,000 acres and the first of a series of floodways on the lower Mississippi River designated for emergency storage when major floods occur at the confluence of the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers.

Its history is tied directly to two major floods: the first in 1927 and the second in 1937. These floods prompted the creation of a flood management system and kicked off a decades-long controversy between landowners in the floodway and everyone else who benefits from functioning floodplains – the general public. The Floodway contains a series of levees with a 1,500-foot opening that directly connects the Floodway with the Mississippi River at its southern end. This gap serves as a relief valve for river rises and the outlet for rainwater.

Most floodway farmers received government payments for the right to occasionally flood their land, but they have continuously resisted flooding in the Floodway, even getting Congress’ approval to close the last remaining 1,500-foot gap in 1954.

Fortunately, the gap is still open because the decision to close it was a political one and none of the agencies responsible for approving the project can find the science to support it. You may remember the massive flood of 2011 when the Bird’s Point levee was blown up to prevent flooding Cairo, Illinois. The explosion was necessary because when the Army Corps of Engineers tried to operate the floodway as intended, the State of Missouri sued, delaying action and exacerbating the damage.

Even after the devastating explosion, the same small group of landowners has continued to lobby to close the 1,500-foot gap, trying to push floodwaters out of the designated floodway and into communities downstream. The seventh proposal to close the gap is now in the works and MCE and others are requesting EPA veto the project once and for all. Senator Durbin of Illinois has already formally requested a veto.

Three reasons we don’t need the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project:

  • Important and valuable wetlands would be lost.
  • The public paid for flowage easements in the Floodway to be operated when necessary.
  • Completing the project puts more people and land at risk.

You can read more at www.moenvironment.org.