American Rivers Proposes Flood Response Overhaul

American Rivers, a river conservation organization, released a national agenda for responding to the floods in a manner that both helps today's victims and prevents tomorrow's, according to a July 16 press release.

"This is the second "500-year flood" in less than two decades, and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change means more severe and more frequent storms, including more record-breaking floods," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "Clearly business as usual won't work for the communities struggling to recover from this year's floods -- and the communities at risk in the coming years."

American Rivers is calling on the U.S. Congress as well as state and local elected officials to pursue eight key approaches to protecting communities from flooding:

1. Get People out of Harm's Way by doubling federal funding for voluntary relocation programs.

2. Stop Further Wetland and Stream Destruction by halting new permits to fill wetlands unless states and federal agencies can demonstrate they won't increase flood risk, and by restoring historic protections to these resources by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007.

3. Restore What's Been Lost And Damaged – The Mississippi River's floodplain is severely degraded, its islands are eroded, and its backwaters have filled in, greatly reducing the river's natural ability to absorb flooding. Congress should fully fund the $1.8 billion comprehensive restoration plan authorized for the Mississippi River.

4. Scrutinize Our Levee System -- Communities that have developed behind levees have the right to know the condition of these structures. In November 2007, Congress passed the National Levee Safety Program Act but failed to provide adequate funds. The law must be fully funded at $120 million over six years.

5. Do No Harm -- Congress should prohibit the construction of new navigation structures and new levees until the Army Corps of Engineers ensures that those structures will not increase flooding downstream. Several studies have shown that these structures are among the leading causes of increased flooding.

6. Recognize the Risk of Global Warming -- Congress must pass an updated version of the National Flood Insurance Modernization Act that recognizes the impact of global warming on flooding.

7. Protect Farmland –The federal government must honor and enforce past commitments to Farm Land Conservation programs. In the Midwest, more than 106,000 acres of land was removed from the program in 2007 and 2008 -- land that could have helped to absorb this recent round of floods.

8. Provide Relief for Farmers -- Congress should provide $2 billion in emergency funding for incentives for the production of "flood-friendly" crops. Crops such as switchgrass would better meet the nation's interest in biofuel production while simultaneously protecting critical floodplains.

"After the 1993 floods, some communities followed a new course, and they survived these floods with less damage," said Andrew Fahlund, vice president of Conservation. "But in too many communities the actions taken actually increased flooding risks, making the damage from the recent flooding far worse than it needed to be. We must learn from the past and apply those lessons to protect America's communities in the face of climate change."

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