Annual Endangered Rivers Report Highlights Threats Posed By Flooding
New Orleans drowned last year in large part due to the government's failed efforts to prevent flooding, and these mistaken approaches also put other communities at risk, according to American Rivers' new report, America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2006 (released on April 19).
Nearly a century of federal flood damage reduction efforts poured tons of concrete and billions of dollars into massive engineering projects that too often destroy natural flood protection and lure communities into harm's way, the authors of the report state.
"When people are afraid of something, we build walls, and building levees has been the knee jerk response to overflowing rivers. But the flooding of New Orleans shows levees can and do fail, and the biggest risk occurs where wetlands and natural buffers are no longer there to provide flood protection," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call it is time to strike a balance among natural flood protection, engineering, and keeping people out of harm's way."
For more than 20 years, the annual America's Most Endangered Rivers report has highlighted rivers facing major turning points in the following year, where action by citizens can make a huge difference for both community well-being and river health. The report also spotlights a significant, current threat to the nation's rivers.
"Floods are natural events, but they can become unnatural disasters when coupled with poor planning, unwise development and an over-reliance on engineering to provide flood protection," Wodder said. "While levees and other structural solutions will continue to be part of the nation's flood protection strategy, the key to ensuring community safety lies in working with nature, not against it."
New Orleans is not the only U.S. city to face the threat of flooding. The Pajaro River in California, this year's No. 1 most endangered river, demonstrates the danger of relying solely on engineering to protect communities like Watsonville and Pajaro, American Rivers officials stated. The current set of levees is not adequately protecting people living near the Pajaro from flooding.
The report argues the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should develop a new plan that works with the whole river and includes solutions to the Pajaro's many upstream problems.
American Rivers is calling on the Bush administration and Congress to overhaul the Corps' approach to river management, through new policies including: new guidelines that account for the risk of wetlands destruction and floodplain development; independent review of agency projects; and a renewed focus on high priority projects.
To view the list of the most endangered rivers, visit http://www.americanrivers.org.