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Tuesday
May102011

Mississippi Rising: Man-Made or Mother Nature?

Scott Olson/Getty Images(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- As the Mississippi River continues to rise and the threat of flooding moves south with the current, many critics of the Army Corps of Engineers are blaming man rather than Mother Nature for the high water.

"This is largely a man-made disaster -- to point it only to rainfall is naive," said H.J. Bosworth Jr., civil engineer and director of research for Levees.org. "Yes, there was lots of rainfall, but there was also lots of development. Every time you build a parking lot or a Walmart you add to the burden of the drainage system and all that drainage goes into the Mississippi River."

Bosworth says many parts of the water system including the levees were built prior to the creation of the fully developed urban areas and that this transition from soil to cement created major problems.

"If the rainfall increased in a forest the forest is going to suck up 90 percent of that rainfall. But if it happens in a urban area the pavement and roofs aren't going to suck up anything," Bosworth told ABC News.

The affect is multiplied on the mighty Mississippi because rivers in 31 states drain into it or its tributaries.

Robert Criss, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, attributes the rise in devastating floods to the continued constriction of the waterways and increased building in vulnerable areas. He says that as levees continue to be built higher it creates water that has enough power to tear through a landscape like a tsunami if the levee is breached, destroying everything in its path.

Both Criss and Bosworth agree that part of the problem is inaccurate assessments by the Corps.

"There are plenty of people living in designated 100-year flood plain areas and by government standards that's more like 10-year flood estimates," said Criss. "Every year is a 10-year flood now or worse...In terms of the Army Corps of Engineers' flood statistics I was able to show that there's not one chance in a thousand that their statistics are correct."

According to Criss, the "fraudulent statistics" encourage people to live in flood plains because based on the Corps' assessment, people receive subsidized insurance and other financial benefits.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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