Facing Repeated Flooding, Missouri Finds Ways to Lighten Damage

Along rivers and statewide, floodplain preservation offers many benefits to communities

Facing Repeated Flooding, Missouri Finds Ways to Lighten Damage

Vegetation lining the Meramec River Greenway, in St. Louis County, Missouri, slows down and absorbs floodwaters, helping boost the area’s resiliency to natural disasters.

This American Land

Eight of the 10 states that experienced the most flood-related disaster declarations over the past decade were inland. Near the top of the list sits Missouri, a state that has endured repeated and devastating riverine flooding, and not just in the past decade: From 2000 to 2017, the federal government issued 25 disaster or emergency declarations for floods, hurricanes, and severe storms in the state. The most recent of those came a year ago this week, when massive flooding struck Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas. Floodwaters left 20 people dead and caused $1.7 billion in damage to homes, businesses, farms, and infrastructure.

The challenge of frequent and costly flooding in Missouri, and what communities there are doing in response, is the topic of an upcoming episode of “This American Land,” a public television series commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts to showcase environmental issues.

Forest Homes For Bats, Natural Defenses Against Floods, Prescribed Fires For Tree Plantations
26min 47sec

Over the past three decades, St. Louis County, which borders numerous waterways, has aggressively restored and connected natural space and wetlands along 108 miles of the Meramec River; many of those areas had been degraded by recurring floods. Those improvements provide long-term economic benefits, according to an independent nonprofit group, Resources for the Future. The group found that by protecting—instead of developing—the Meramec River Greenway, St. Louis County is projected to save an average of $7.7 million in avoided flood damage every year, while having the potential to create about $23.6 million annually in recreational and aesthetic value.   

Federal assistance has been key to helping Missouri communities become more resilient. With support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Missouri’s state government conducted buyouts from willing homeowners in flood-prone areas that saved nearly $100 million from losses avoided in 2008, a 212 percent return on investment. 

Missouri has shown that it takes a multifaceted approach to address rising waters and that floodplain conservation can help reduce riverine flooding and provide quality-of-life benefits that ripple throughout a region. Watch the short “This American Land” story here to see how community leaders, conservationists, and government officials work together on ways to break the costly cycle of flooding and rebuilding.

Laura Lightbody directs Pew’s flood-prepared communities initiative.

Flooded community
Flooded community
Opinion

Before the Flood: The Value of Mitigation

There’s much that governments can do to lessen the impact of the natural disasters that are becoming increasingly common.

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Opinion

Billion-dollar natural disasters are becoming the norm in the United States. Since 1980, catastrophes of this magnitude have affected all 50 states, hitting five to 10 times each year. Floods are the most frequent and expensive disasters; from 1980 to 2013, they caused more than $260 billion in damage. In 2016 alone, 36 of the federal government’s 46 disaster declarations involved floods or hurricanes; four of them cost more than $1 billion each.

Former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley
Former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley
Video

After the Storm: Charleston’s Blueprint

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Video

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina. The natural disaster claimed a dozen lives and caused more than $10 billion in recovery costs. At the time, it was the most destructive and expensive hurricane on record. The city was devastated, but then-Mayor Joseph Riley vowed not just to rebuild, but to rebuild better. His plan included a storm water management plan using underground pipes as well as nature-based solutions to prevent erosion and storm damage along the coast. With flood-related disasters increasing nationwide, Congress is discussing ways to invest in our nation’s infrastructure and solutions to safeguard communities. Charleston’s story can serve as an example to these lawmakers and to others cities across the United States. Learn more at pewtrusts.org/floods.

'After the Fact' Podcast
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The Financial Toll of Flooding

Pew’s podcast, ‘After the Fact’ explores the cost of devastating floods and what Nashville, Tennessee is doing to mitigate risk.

Hear the full story
Quick View

The Financial Toll of Flooding

Pew’s podcast, ‘After the Fact’ explores the cost of devastating floods and what Nashville, Tennessee is doing to mitigate risk.

Hear the full story