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Life on the Mississippi: Costs & Benefits

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Mississippi 2011 Flood Report

In April and May 2011, residents along the Mississippi River experienced the area’s largest flood in modern history – even worse than the historic 1927 floods.  The floods affected more than 21,000 homes and businesses and 1.2 million acres of farmland in seven states.  In all, the disaster caused some $2.8 billion in damages.

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its long-awaited report on the flooding.  The Mississippi River & Tributaries 2011 Post Flood Report is a 350-page study that documents the Corps’ response to the flood and the performance of the Mississippi River & Tributaries (MR&T) system. A report this detailed could be debated for years but the key point in any analysis has to involve the cost-benefit equation of modern flood control.

History is important here – specifically the history of damages prevented through the Corps of Engineers’ lower Mississippi flood risk reduction system.  This effort started with the 1928 Flood Control Act, which Congress passed as a result of the massive 1927 Mississippi River flooding.  The Act authorized the Corps of Engineers to construct and operate the MR&T flood control system.

Today’s MR&T flood protection system cost about $13 billion, not including the $2.8 billion in repairs necessitated by the 2011 flooding.  But during 2011 alone, according to a Corps estimate, the system prevented more than $62 billion in damages.

Moreover, there was no loss of life in 2011.  By comparison, the 1927 floods resulted in 246 deaths.

As we’ve blogged previously, the fight to minimize flood damages is a continuing undertaking.  But there shouldn’t be any question that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our forefathers for having the insights and commitment to address the flood risks on the Mississippi River that were dramatically realized after the floods of 1927.

Rob Vining, Senior Advisor

Prior to joining Dawson & Associates, Rob served as Chief of the Civil Works Programs, Management Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


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