For Immediate Release
Shana Udvardy, 202-243-7056
Amy Kober, 206-898-3864
A 21st Century Flood Management Strategy for the Southeast
Statement by Shana Udvardy, American Rivers
WASHINGTON - American Rivers voiced support today for efforts to help communities
across Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi recover from recent floods
and released a four point plan to prevent dangerous and damaging floods
in the future.
In Tennessee, after heavy rains dumped over 13 inches on May 1 and 2,
Cumberland and Tennessee River tributary levels exceeded previous large
floods of 1975 and 1927. Making matters worse, on May 2 the Long
Hollow Pike Dam in Gallatin, TN reportedly breached. Also on May 2, the
Army Corps of Engineers, concerned for the stability of Old Hickory Dam,
released 5.4 billion gallons of water through the dam. Downstream
communities, including Nashville, were not notified of the sudden
release of water. On May 5 a levee in Dyersburg, TN overtopped.
"The loss of lives is a catastrophe. Our hearts go out to the people
who lost loved ones and whose property was damaged," said Shana Udvardy,
director of flood management policy for American Rivers.
"While we need to focus on public safety and recovery now, we must
also take this opportunity to reassess our flood management strategies
to prevent this kind of disaster from happening in the future," she
American Rivers highlighted four priorities that are an essential
part of a 21st century flood management plan:
1) Remove or repair unsafe dams As in all parts
of the United States, there are many unsafe or obsolete dams throughout
the Southeast. These dams can make flooding worse by increasing flood
heights upstream or, in the worst case scenario, when the dam fails.
American Rivers is a leader in removing outdated dams; we assist
communities across the country in eliminating public safety hazards,
saving money and restoring rivers through dam removal.
American Rivers recently released a DVD about how communities are
improving public safety and reducing flood damage by removing outdated
dams. Watch the video at http://www.americanrivers.org/our-work/restoring-rivers/dams/restoring-americas-rivers-dvd.html
2) Restore and protect floodplains Protecting and
restoring natural floodplains gives rivers room to spread out, which
reduces flood levels. In some areas, levees can be set back farther from
the river, or removed altogether if appropriate flood management steps
are implemented. Allowing rivers to overflow onto natural floodplains
upstream of populated areas can also help alleviate pressure on levees
guarding cities. Wherever possible, homes and businesses in the
floodplain should be moved out of harm's way. High risk facilities like
hospitals, schools and elder housing should never be developed in
floodplains. Structures that are damaged by floods each year must be a
priority for removal or relocation.
3) Protect wetlands Wetlands are nature's
sponges, absorbing floodwaters and releasing them slowly over time. A
single wetland acre, saturated to a depth of one foot, retains 330,000
gallons of water -- enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh
deep. Even having four to five percent wetland coverage in a watershed
can reduce peak floods by 50 percent. Wetlands that are drained, filled,
or isolated behind levees provide little or no flood protection for the
4) Reform flood insurance Congress originally
intended the National Flood Insurance Program to reduce the nation's
vulnerability to flood damage. Instead, the program has run up a near
$20 billion debt to the Federal Treasury and has encouraged destruction
of floodplains and wildlife habitat, with taxpayer subsidies. Congress
must use the upcoming NFIP reauthorization to reform the program in
order to ensure fiscal solvency, public safety, and river health.
Throughout much of American history, rivers have been treated as
problems that must be "solved" through large scale and expensive
engineering projects. As a result, rivers have been clogged with dams,
straightened and channelized, cut off from their floodplains and even
buried underground. But these approaches have often exacerbated the
very problems they were meant to solve, and have saddled communities
with long-term costs they cannot afford. Despite spending more than $25
billion on federal levees and dams, our nation's flood losses continue
"American Rivers is committed to helping these states bring flood
management into the 21st century," said Udvardy. "Levees and other
structural solutions will continue to be part of the flood management
strategy in some communities that must protect existing development
within floodplains, but the real answer to long-term safety and
well-being lies in working with nature, not against it."
American Rivers is the only national organization standing up for healthy rivers so our communities can thrive. Through national advocacy, innovative solutions and our growing network of strategic partners, we protect and promote our rivers as valuable assets that are vital to our health, safety and quality of life.
Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions.