Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Floodways are for floods.




Check out this NASA image from today and consider whether blowing up the Birds Point Levee might lower record flood elevations at places other than Cairo. 

Only one major outlet I know of, the Wall Street Journal, got the Birds Point story right today, by mentioning flowage easements.

Landowners in the Birds Point - New Madrid Floodway knew, or should have, they were bound by flood easements.  These easements say  "If a huge flood comes, I may need to flood your property.   I'm paying you for that right, $this much, now."  The easement money is compensation for a reduction in land value.

Bought in the 1930’s (and some later, I’m not sure).  Anybody buying land, for a house or farming, can see the flowage easement, paid for by the Federal Government, and know that, if the Mississippi River at Cairo gage hits sixty feet, land in the floodway will be intentionally flooded. 

The people of the United States have paid for the right to to open that floodway as part of a designed flood control system.  And also for design, construction, and maintenance of the monstrous federal levees that have protected the farmland in it for eighty years.  A huge economic benefit.

When the Army Corps detonated expolosives to open the Birds Point - New Madrid Floodway, it  was bound by law, not “last ditch desperation,” or debates over who on which side of the river works harder, or anything else.  The Corps dutifully followed a well-debated eighty-year old plan that has the force of law. 

Landowners were compensated when the Birds Point – New Madrid Floodway was built eighty years ago.  So much so that the U.S. Justice Department halted the project, for a while, over excessive payments.  

The reduced value of flood-prone land, whether there are easements in place or not, is built in to property values.  People build houses in flood-prone places because it’s cheaper to live there, at least in the short term, if you’re lucky and the Mississippi doesn’t hit 60 feet on the Cairo gage.

From the WSJ article, quoting farmer Bryan Feezor:

"If I had known this was going to happen, that corn [he planted] would still be sitting in a bag," he said. He didn't buy crop insurance because he said it's too expensive in the floodway, even though the area was used to carry water only once before, in 1937.
 The Floodway was very nearly used in 1983.  Crop insurance is “too expensive” in the floodway because the risk is high, and insurance companies adjust cost to  risk.   

And nobody will insure a house in the Birds Point – New Madrid Floodway. 




1 comment:

Josh Martin said...

This is fascinating stuff. I hadn't read much on the Birds Point Levee, and when I flew over today I felt very bad for those who were flooded. But after reading your posts I see that they all knew what they were doing by building there.