The New Deal, the Green New Deal, and Flood Control

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Last night, I saw some images from this year’s flooding in the Midwest float by, and I remembered my grade school classes on FDR, and that the New Deal actually had a significant flood control component. So I thought I would recapture a little bit of that history, and then put the Green New Deal (here; here) in that context. Spoiler alert: Problematic. First, I’ll survey the scale and scope of the flooding, then I’ll look briefly at the New Deal flood control programs, and finally I’ll look at the Green New Deal (“DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES“).

The Midwest Floods of 2019 (So Far)

Here is a handy map of current flooding from the the United States Geological Survey. As you can see, there’s rather a lot of it:

Weather Underground describes the causes of the flooding:

The flooding was triggered after an intense “bomb cyclone” pushed strong winds, mild temperatures, and heavy rain across frozen, snow-covered ground on March 12-14. The result was a flash melt that clogged rivers and streams with huge ice chunks and massive amounts of water. The cyclone itself also caused widespread wind damage and blizzard-related impacts.

And Grist describes the effects. In fact, it’s not just the Midwest:

The record-breaking flooding disaster in the Midwest is just beginning.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued its annual spring flood outlook, and it is downright biblical. By the end of May, parts of 25 states — nearly two-thirds of the country — could see flooding severe enough to cause damage.

Pretty much every major body of water east of the Rockies is at elevated risk of flooding in the coming months, including the Mississippi, the Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, the eastern Missouri River, the lower Ohio, the lower Cumberland, and the Tennessee River basins.

“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center, in a press release. That represents about 60 percent of all Americans.

Curbed comments:

The midwestern floods join the lengthening list of unprecedented and unexpected natural disasters accelerated and made worse by climate change. And, just like other climate events that have caused widespread damage, our planning, resiliency, and flood insurance programs are ill-equipped to cope.

There is, naturally, a lot of flood imagery (Discover, Vox) but the photograph that really struck me was this one:

That’s Offut Air Force Base, headquarters of the Strategic Air Command[1]. If there’s a better symbol of our society’s inability to mobilize against climate change — even in its own terms! — I have a hard time thinking of it.[2] Now let’s turn to how FDR mobilized the United States, back in the Age of Steam, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

New Deal Flood Control Projects

From the Roosevelt Institute, writing of the Midwest flooding in 2011 — [breaks out calculator] — eight years (or two presidential election cycles) ago:

Interestingly, 75 years ago the United States faced a very similar natural disaster in the form of the Great Flood of 1936. Unlike today, however, the death and destruction that struck much of the eastern United States as a result of the flood spurred Congress into action. It passed of one of the most significant — though lesser-known — pieces of legislation to come out of the New Deal: the Flood Control Act of 1936.

Recognizing for the first time “that destructive floods upon the rivers of the United States constitute a menace to national welfare” and that “flood control on navigable waters or their tributaries is a proper activity of the Federal Government in cooperation with States,” the Roosevelt administration worked with members of Congress to pass the first piece of legislation to provide for national flood relief. The hundreds of reservoir, levee, and channelization projects that resulted from the 1936 act protected millions of acres of farmland, saved countless lives, and literally changed the face of the nation. Taken together, the projects that came about as a consequence of the act constitute one of the largest additions to our nation’s economic infrastructure, on par with the development of the nation’s highway system. Moreover, in keeping with the spirit of the New Deal, the construction of many of these flood control projects (which usually took place under the auspices of the US Army Corps of Engineers) also spurred local and regional economic growth and helped conserve one of our nation’s most precious resources — our soil.[3]

These New Deal flood control public works[4] projects were quite extensive. From the interactive map at the wonderful Living New Deal site:

And from the same site, I pick at random one such project: The Breakheart Reservation in Saugus and Wakefield, Massachusetts, now on the National Register of Historic Places. A photo:

And the history:

The CCC conducted extensive work on Breakheart Reservation to turn it into a public park. From the Friends of Breakheart Reservation website: “[H]undreds of men lived and worked here, paid $30 a month, out of which they kept $5 and sent the rest home to their families. It was the CCC who helped develop this land into a recreational area with bridle paths, trails, and picnic areas.”

From Wikipedia: “In 1934 the executors for Johnson and Clough sold the Breakheart Hill Forest to the Metropolitan District Commission for upwards of $40,000. The MDC then turned the land over to the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the course of six years, the CCC built roads and trails, planted trees, and restored the dams at Upper Pond and Lower Pond. The CCC’s efforts resulted in the return of wildlife that had become rare in Breakheart, including beavers, fishers, coyotes, blue herons, and owls. Breakheart was opened to the public in 1936.”

So the public has been benefitting from this New Deal public works flood control project for — [breaks out calculator again] — 83 years. Not to mention the “beavers, fishers, coyotes, blue herons, and owls,” all of whom are in their own ways helping to keep the biosphere in balance. And the same goes for all the other projects on that map.

The Green New Deal and Flood Control Projects

Now, with a New Deal track record like that — not to mention an ongoing series of flooding disasters in the midwest, dating back to at least the pre-Obama era, in 2007 — you might think that the Green New Deal, well, learned from history and included flood control with its project scope. No such luck:

(6) SCOPE OF THE PLAN FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL AND THE DRAFT LEGISLATION.—

eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water;

No matter how hard you squint, “clean water” is not flood control. The omission is especially curious, given the next section:

B) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation. In furtherance of the foregoing, the Plan (and the draft legislation) shall:

ensure a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level and by prioritizing solutions that end the harms faced by front-line communities from climate change and environmental pollution;

It’s hard to see how “rural” residents whose homes (and farms and businesses) are literally underwater aren’t “front-line communities” “affected by climate change,” and why they don’t get a bullet point of their own under “(6) SCOPE OF THE PLAN,” especially, again, considering the success of the flood control efforts of the original New Deal. Now, I have always viewed the GND as “a plan to have a plan” — not a bad thing, an essential thing — but that the initial state did not, apparently, include input about a major concern from the Midwest is very concerning. My suggestion to GND advocates is that if they want to be seen as working for all Americans — no doubt a good thing with another “change” election coming up — that they remedy this omission tout suite. Frankly, I expected to see this material included in the “Draft Text,” and was mildly shocked when it wasn’t.

NOTES

[1] Yes, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was shot on location at Offut Air Force Base (“Burpleson Air Force Base”).

[2] The photo caption is wonderfully dry: “A personally-owned vehicle sits in flood waters March 17, 2019, at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. In the wake of base flooding, the 55th Wing Legal office is offering assistance with claims. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake).” From the body of the article: “‘The legal office is here to take care of the whole base and their legal needs and helping people become financially whole after a disaster is part of that,’ said Capt. Joline Y. Doedens-Combs, 55th WG assistant staff judge advocate.” Unlike most, I would think.

[3] We also learned about the New Deal and soil in grade school, and that might be a suitable topic for a later post.

[4] Don’t say “infrastructure.” Say “public works.”

APPENDIX

Two caveats I didn’t find a place for:

First, I’m aware that the New Deal flood control projects are not entirely unproblematic, especially stream channelization. My point is that the New Deal mobilized the country, contrasted with our own curious inability to do.

Second, the focus of the GND is “greenhouse gases,” not saving the biosphere as such; therefore, one might not expect water (or soil) to figure largely, as they did in the original New Deal. Intuitively, I feel that is a mistake; we cannot, for example, envision using a re-prairied Midwest as a carbon sink without thinking about soil and water. Ditto reforestation.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

52 comments

  1. barrisj

    Ironically enough the Pentagon some years ago commissioned a study that concluded global warming is an existential threat to “national security”, and here we have one of the most “mission-critical” AF bases within the continental US underwater after an “unprecedented” weather event. To be ignored at one’s peril…more studies!

    Reply
  2. upstater

    My mom and 2 brothers live in the New Orleans area. New Orleans obviously is on the front lines of climate change. During Katrina, her house *barely* flooded (but was more than enough to make it uninhabitable for months), as it is in Jefferson Parish. One brother in Slidell (outside levee “protection”) had 7 feet of water in his house. He since moved to higher ground. I spent weeks there post-Katrina.

    The Corps of Engineers spent years and $15 billion repairing and reinforcing the levee system in south Louisiana. Supposedly the region and withstand a category 3 hurricane. The levee a few blocks from my mom’s house has been heightened twice since Katrina. But it keeps sinking.

    From my perspective, sooner or later the region will be inundated AGAIN. It is unavoidable. The coastal marshes have been completely degraded and geo-engineering will never restore what man has taken away.

    So much of the region should have been abandoned, yet we pay to rebuild places like East New Orleans and Chalmette or the Ninth Ward. St. Tammany Parish (Slidell) approved the building of a 2600 home subdivision in Slidell on filled-in marsh right on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain with parish-built levees. They are building it now. https://www.drhorton.com/louisiana/northshore/slidell/lakeshore-villages

    While I sympathize with those affected in the flooding in the Missouri Valley, part of the problem is directly related to the New Deal (and after) geo-engineering in the first place. Too many areas in bottom lands that historically flooded have been developed because of the levees and dams. More levees and dams are not going to solve the problem, it will just shift the flooding elsewhere.

    Like so many things, this looks hopeless to me. But it will not deter spending money on infrastructure that provides a few dry years followed by certain destruction.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      during my Wild Years, late 80’s-early-90’s, I spent a lot of time in southern Louisiana, all the way down into the now non-existant portions of the delta.
      the Corps, as well as related oil company efforts, have contributed greatly to the erosion that now plagues that whole region. I remember plying the Atchafalaya in a pirogue and marvelling at the great avenues carved out of the swamp to facilitate the movement of machinery…and the same sort of giant avenues carved out of the saltgrass and marsh down towards the now underwater delta.like an environmental al quaida, we created much of what now threatens us.
      I’m wholly in favor of GND…the last New Deal saved our bacon. my grandad got his start as a lathe-and-plaster guy with the CCC, and as a kid, we toured the places throughout the south he had helped build(now that’s a family vacation,lol)…but geoengineering of any sort should be approached with abundant caution…and room must be left for Nature to do her thing…including big floods.
      when Harvey came through Houston, the Addicks Reservoir was in the news….a big basin west of town that was intended to capture a bunch of the runoff before it got into the urban bayous.
      but it’s effectiveness relied on much of the land west of Houston remaining prairie, and thus permeable…not paved over like now.
      we drove through that reservoir several years ago to get around construction on I10, and I remarked that there were subdivisions there, now,lol.
      Post-Harvey news coverage left out that bit of human stupidity and hubris…as well as all the subdivisions along the Brazos in Ft Bend County…”protected” by a big levee that wasn’t big enough.(water just went around it).
      outside of Magnolia, where I grew up, the Lake Creek Bottom(George Mitchell Country) is now thoroughly suburbanised…wall to wall tickytacky houses…in a creek bottom!…belonging to a big creek called “Lake Creek”,lol. I can’t count the number of times that whole area flooded during my coming up.
      This practice has to end,too, no matter what the developers want.
      My time in the Atchafalaya Basin was spent with Swamp People, living in an impossible, giant houseboat, way back in there, accessible only by boat.

      They are the only people, imo, qualified to live in such places.Roads and mcmansions and sewer systems are anathema.

      Reply
  3. thesaucymugwump

    They’re only partially due to the New Deal, but anyone who has spent time around Chicago knows about the many forest preserves. The ones in Cook County were originally created shortly after the Civil War by enlightened government figures. Many facilities in them were built and/or improved during the Great Depression by the CCC. I visited many of them during work picnics or relative gatherings. They are an oasis in an often dreary area.

    And I will make my usual anti-libertarian comment. Chicago’s forest preserves, like the Interstate Highway System, would never have been created if not for the government. Government sometimes goes too far, but there are many areas in which it has excelled.

    The Green New Deal is simply nuts. AOC and other fools appear to be unaware that solar and wind power are not on-demand sources, as are nuclear, coal, gas, etc. They cannot be our sole source of power.

    By the way, it’s not surprising that Offutt AFB is flooded, given its close proximity to the Missouri River. And the bluffs surrounding the river in that area are beautiful.

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      I feel like you are identifying me as a “fool”. And yet, fool that I am, I am aware that solar/wind are not on-demand.

      I am apparently such a fool that I do not realize that the human race hatched from eggs in the mid 1850’s or so, and thus could never ever be expected to survive on less than fully “on-demand'” power sources.

      I also am such a fool that I believe that power plants, nuclear reactors especially, go off-line for months at a time (funny, I actually worked in said reactors when they were down, apparently it was all a “make-work” hoax for, again, idiots like me) so, again I’m not even sure what “on-demand power” actually means.

      Ah well, thanks for trying to enlighten me. You’ll find it’s hopeless, though.

      Reply
      1. thesaucymugwump

        Nuclear power plants go off-line only for planned maintenance (nuclear disasters don’t count), something you neglected to mention, with other power-producing plants picking up the slack. Solar goes offline every night and during snowstorms and rainstorms. And then there is the problem of storing power generated by solar and wind for periods when they are not producing power, something we are not close to realizing.

        AOC is a fool because she did not say that we need to maximize our use of solar and wind — a laudable goal — she said we are going to solely depend upon the unreliable solar and wind for all of our power needs. Good luck trying to check your messages during the night in a dead calm, not to mention heating your house during the winter.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          To check messages at night in a dead calm where you live, you would need to be on a grid which could supply enough power to keep the messages moving in a dead calm. But if a dead calm “here” is offset by a roaring gale “there”, all power-feeding the grid in their turn; then it should be possible to run a grid on wind/sun/hydro/biomass/tidal/ocean wave/etc. IFF! one is satisfied with the limited power grid supply which renewables could deliver over the grid. In other words, one might be able to check one’s messages but one might not be able to run the washer, dryer, fridge, basement freezer, air conditioning and 3 big TVs all at the same time on a dead calm night.

          Heating house in the winter? That seems rather easier. Super-insulated house with enough south-facing windows ( and maybe big mirror panels outside to bounce even more light into the house) to harvest enough daylight for the house to degrade into heat to last on stored heat overnight till the next day. And supplementary grid power for when the super-efficient super-well light-heated house can’t do it all by itself.

          Reply
          1. Amfortas the hippie

            for your last paragraph, I have the poor man’s proof of concept: entirely from cast off/salvaged materials, an attached greenhouse heated by 2 black plastic rainbarrels that absorb the sun and radiate the heat at night. I only had to build a fire in the woodstove twice this winter, when it got really, really cold, and the sun failed to shine.
            as for the rest…”demand” is the problem.
            “need” to check one’s emails at 3am…”need” to have ac when it’s a mere 80 degrees…”need” to have a 30 minute shower…etc etc.
            we “need” to revisit what is really necessary.

            Reply
        2. heresy101

          This dumb energy engineer says that you need to get out of the 19th, maybe 20th century if I’m generous. We took a small municipal utility to 100% GHG neutral resources in 2020 (actually 2016 but sold some of the renewables off until 2020).
          Coal and nuclear are being phased out of the energy mix because they can’t compete. Combined gas cycle plants are being shut down in California because they are not competitive. For instance, Calpine’s ~eight year old Sutter plant was shut down along with several others. The most efficient combined cycle plant in Lodi was planned to operate at 68% capacity factor, but only currently at 18% CF. Storage is becoming cost effective for peak loading and even combustion turbines (jet engines connected to generators) are being out bid by wind/solar and storage. As costs of storage drop, gas turbines will be outbid overall.

          Mr. SMW, please don’t believe the lies of the Kock brothers.
          This is the twenty-first century and renewables are outbidding nuclear (most plants are old and obsolete like Diablo Canyon), coal (1/2 of plants retiring), and gas which will likely be around for another 30 years. A midwest utility got a solar & storage project for about $38/MWh. Prices aren’t available for the Florida project, but it negates what you are saying:
          https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/florida-power-light-to-build-409-megawatt-solar-powered-battery-system This is a case of solar/storage cutting out natural gas combustion turbines. “The Manatee Energy Storage Center will have the ability to distribute 900 megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 329,000 homes for 2 hours.”

          Hopefully, a young co-worker gets the job he has applied for and I’ll come out of retirement to help him meet 50% of California’s electric needs from off-shore wind!!

          Reply
          1. philnc

            I stumbled across news of that Manatee project and dug for anything I could find on it. Apart from reworded versions of the power company’s press release in local media, I didn’t find much. In fact, I learned that project was just the tip of the renewable energy iceberg and that some power companies across the US seem to be moving aggressively into solar and wind, but somehow are being ignored by both mainstream and alternative outlets. That seems curious to me. Clearly the fossil fuel and nuclear industries continue to have a lot of influence, enough to keep most people in the dark about where things are going. Of course it’s also the case that even those power companies investing in renewables have lobbied hard to discourage adoption of decentralized, home-based solar as a threat to their business model. The only conclusion I can come to with my limited knowledge is that big power has indeed concluded that renewables will be more profitable for them, so long as they can continue to monopolize their production.

            Reply
            1. mle detroit

              You would think the power companies would adjust their business model to include installation and maintenance of renewables, especially rooftop solar. Why leave all that business lying around for Silicon Valley to grab?

              Reply
        3. freedomny

          You could be the foolish one if you actually think that some years down the line you might be able to even get messages. Life as we know it today will simply not exist.

          Reply
          1. aletheia33

            i love the idea of not being able to get messages in the middle of the night.
            who REALLY wants one of those?
            teenagers?
            when someone died in the middle of the night, their family used to get a call on that quaint device the telephone.
            generally, back then, that was the only kind of phone call one expected to receive at such a time.
            if the ringing of the phone woke you up, you kind of prepared yourself to hear the worst as you got out of your bed and went downstairs to answer it.
            a welcome, helpful interval.
            during the many nights when family members did not die, people mostly rested.
            somehow i have the impression that many people were less cranky back then.
            just an impression.

            Reply
        4. Adam Eran

          Storage is an issue, but an actual physicist (Amory Lovins) has a plan without nuclear (with natural gas) that would work, he says. Of course he only re-insulated the Empire State building, so what can he know?

          Meanwhile: “Call no man fool lest ye be damned to the hell of fire” (Jesus [H] Christ)

          Reply
        5. Aloha

          In my opinion AOC is not a fool she is a passionate person who is very bright and courageous. I just want to make sure that you understand that the Green New Deal is a collective work of ideas that some very concerned scientists and others have put together in order to start to clean up the toxic soup that is now this planet. And that includes creating new jobs and cutting way back on fossil fuels and MIC. If the GND passes the House and Congress it is about creating an official government “GND Forum Committee” to begin a discussion on the ideas that are proposed, take out some, add some new ones, etc… This is not some huge bill that is going to change laws or god forbid spend any money to begin to clean up toxic waste dumps. It’s only purpose is to begin an official discussion that will be on record. This is about every citizen in every State helping to create a healthy future for generations to come! Aloha

          Reply
      2. Sanxi

        a different chris, yep got that right. I’d add as to ‘on demand’ the lack there of is going to be the new normal, or the ‘way it was’ back in the day or at bit further back as in no power of the kind referenced at all. The pyramids were built without electricity. Just saying.

        Reply
    2. Bob

      “AOC and other fools appear to be unaware that solar and wind power are not on-demand sources, as are nuclear, coal, gas, etc. They cannot be our sole source of power.”

      All sources of power can and will be interrupted. There is no getting around this.
      The electrical grid compensates for these interruption by using many different sources of generation.

      At one time it was thought that the limit of “renewable generation” was about 20% of the total power demand.

      This is no longer the case.

      Reply
    3. rd

      It is possible to do things like pumped storage where some of the solar and wind energy is used to pump water into higher elevation cisterns and reservoirs where it can be called upon “on demand” while also storing water.

      That, along with charging batteries in homes etc.. are the types of things that can be done.

      Reply
        1. aletheia33

          funny coincidence … i forgot to mention (above) the usefulness of the interval of going downstairs to answer the phone in the middle of the night at occasional times when the caller was a drunk person pleading for extensive pre-dawn attention.
          the interval was equally valuable on such occasions.

          Reply
  4. Samuel Conner

    I feel a bit ambivalent about “flood control” as part of GND.

    Floodplains flood, and development (and of course climate change) make that worse. It may be better to think more in terms of sustainable uses of the land.

    Reply
  5. John k

    Maybe differentiate between projects in hopeless areas like New Orleans (almost certainly the first city to move inland – granted we will always need a city where the Mississippi meets the gulf) and focus on rarely flooded areas distant from the coast.

    Reply
    1. rd

      The biggest challenge for New Orleans will be when the Atchafalaya River captures the Mississippi further up the delta and New Orleans literally sits on a backwater. USACE has been postponing that day for decades now. One day, a major flood will make it happen.

      Reply
  6. ex-PFC Chuck

    One of my all-time greatest reads was John Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, about the horrendous 1927 flood in the lower Mississippi basin. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It covers aspects ranging the hydrology to the ways in which the society culture in New Orleans affected decisions to save parts of the city at the expense of outlying and downstream areas. Among his more interesting assertions is that the the appallingly discriminatory relief effort, directed by then Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, was the beginning of the end of African Americans’ allegiance to the Republican Party.

    Reply
  7. bruce wilder

    A plan to have a plan, indeed.

    All plans are problematic. The great strength of libertarian, market-god political rhetoric is not having a specific plan, or specific intention (that can conveniently be predicted to have unintended consequences).

    If GND has any traction at all it is because of the growing realization that the market-god has a plan for us and it ain’t pretty. The original New Deal was motivated by a similar realization that the market-god was delivering some seriously unwelcome results: massive unemployment, failed banks, dust bowls, rapidly eroding top soil, foreclosed farms and low crop prices, uncontrolled and uncontrollable flooding.

    What is needed is the shared understanding that social and political cooperation is needed from the bottom-up to manage resources and processes that have never been managed before, combined I would hope, with some insight into the need to let nature have some extensive domain within which to sustain itself and us. It is a big ask of human beings. No less urgent for all that.

    Reply
    1. Aloha

      bruce wilder “What is needed is the shared understanding that social and political cooperation is needed from the bottom-up to manage resources and processes that have never been managed before”

      I totally agree and if we have the right leadership in place I think that it can be done!! I have decided that I am not giving up on HOPE or us for that matter.

      Reply
  8. rd

    Good flood control is really hard. The first thing that most communities do (levees) actually transfers more flooding to other areas as the water that would have been temporarily stored in the floodplain that is now dry because of the levee.

    Whenever I hear about “record flooding”, I go looking for the actual river flow rates, not the river water stage heights which is what the media report. Frequently, the river flow rates are not records at all but the levees have eliminated enough flood storage that the river water level heights are at record heights.

    In areas where land use has increased impermeable land and reduced wetlands and other water storage areas, then runoff actually does increase a flow rates and total volumes do go up. This was why Harvey was such a disaster in Houston. A very long massive rainstorm hit ground that had been largely made impermeable and so all the water flowed off quickly causing flooding. Harvey also exposed absolutely insane land use, such as allowing subdivisions to be built inside actual flood control reservoirs built and operated by USACE because the county leaders didn’t think the floods they were designed for would actually occur. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/22/us/houston-harvey-flooding-reservoir.html

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > impermeable land

      Big issue. I hold no brief for Army Corps implementation. My point is our current inability to mobilize.

      One wonders, for example, if Nebreska neighborhoods will suffer the same fate as New Orleans, Houston, and Puerto Rico.

      Reply
  9. The Rev Kev

    Maybe at Offut Air Force base, they could strap ‘floaties’ to the wings of their aircraft. Would that help? Relatively speaking, it could be worse in that floods are like fires. What I mean is, you have catastrophic losses, people die, thousands of people are made homeless and lose everything that they have. I am speaking as one who saw a major flood not several years ago just down the road. But when I look at that map, I cannot but think that what if that had been a major drought instead.
    Floods recede in days or weeks, droughts ground on month after month and year after year. After a flood, you can go back in and rebuild if you choose so. With a drought, you usually stay in place unless it drives you out. Droughts are far more frightening than floods if not so dramatic. A major drought in the same regions would be much much worse. In a way, this article is cause for optimism as it points out that action is possible with floods and the New Deal from the 1930s shows the way. The technology, people and resources are all there but the only thing lacking is political will.
    I just had a disturbing thought. In the UK, the government was deciding which cities and areas to write off and halt resources to. I think that Manchester was one city written off by this neoliberal theology. Well Brexit showed how that turned out afterwards. But my thought is what if Washington was doing the same for large sections of the US as well. That might explain the lack of political will to do flood control projects as these areas have been written off in Washington. So why spend the money there when you can use it on the coasts?
    As for ‘We also learned about the New Deal and soil in grade school, and that might be a suitable topic for a later post.’ yes please. That would be a very interesting and important article.

    Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Yeah, Brexit. Remain voting was strong in London which was pumping in the wealth of the rest of England. Leave voting was strong in areas that had been abandoned by the UK government, especially with their totally unnecessary austerity policies. Ask yourself this – if the UK had never imposed austerity, would the 2016 Brexit vote have resulted instead in 51.9% saying Remain instead of 51.9% voting Leave instead? The vote was that close. Do yourself a favour and listen to this 4-minute mark Blyth clip at-

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwK0jeJ8wxg

        Very much worth listening to and a bit of a revelation.

        Reply
      2. Yves Smith

        You regularly make shit up. Your were put in moderation, twice it turns out, and jailbroke. That ALONE is grounds for banning. And you continue to engage in the behaviors that got you moderated. You cop a ‘tude which is entirely unwarranted given the low caliber of most of your comments.

        And par for the course, you are dead wrong re Manchester:

        Some cities around the world are beginning to buck the long established trend of suburban living as discussed in the recently published Strategy Briefing, Urban Core Revival: Drivers, In-Depth Look at Cities and Implications for Businesses. Among UK cities, this tendency is most evident in Manchester’s core urban area (City of Manchester) which grew seven times faster compared to the remaining metropolitan area over 2006-2016. The city’s regeneration since the end of the 1990s has helped modernise its landscape, providing a basis for the development of the city’s service-based industries and nurturing an urban vibe that has great appeal to young professionals.

        https://blog.euromonitor.com/urban-core-revival-city-manchesters-population-growth-continues-impress/

        Commenting here is a privilege, not a right, as we explain in our Policies, which you either never read or chose to defy. You are no longer welcome here.

        Reply
        1. Michael Fiorillo

          Thank you, Yves.

          Among the many reasons this site is so important is the quality of the comments, which depends on strict moderation.

          Trolls, begone.

          Reply
  10. Lynne

    Part of the current catastrophe started when ice took out chunks of the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara in Nebraska. That dam was 91 years old.
    As a result, several highways have been destroyed. They aren’t just under water; they are gone, swept away. And were not talking small lanes, either. There are some places where 4lane divided highways are gone. For a sobering thought, pull up the NE road map at https://hb.511.nebraska.gov and take a look at the roads along the Niobrara.

    Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other state, and at one point after the dams started breaking, more than a third of those rivers were above flood stage. I’m a little puzzled why the linked map shows so few projects for Nebraska, but maybe the projects predated that effort, like Spencer Dam?

    On a personal note, some local dams are gone or compromised. There’s flooding where people haven’t seen water run in years. Road crews are still trying to get a handle on the damage. The insurance adjuster who checked out my place late last week first called to ask if the road was open. He has damage claims that are still inaccessible. Pine Ridge’s problems have hit the national news, I see.

    And there’s more storms moving in. People better start stocking up on groceries. Food will be getting expensive.

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    1. aletheia33

      thank you, lynne, for a helpful report in the midst of what must be a difficult time for you. best wishes from vermont.

      Reply
    2. Aloha

      Lynne, I am so glad that you posted this info. The MSM doesn’t delve into the history of topics like this and adding your personal story really brings it home for me. I hope that you and others affected by this will get the help needed to recover.

      Reply
  11. meeps

    >Frankly, I expected to see this material included in the “Draft Text,” and was mildly shocked when it wasn’t.

    You aren’t the only one. I expected a total watershed management plan to be the core of it. I don’t see a national, industrial and economic transformation succeeding without a mobilization to restore the eroded resource base upon which said transition relies.

    >My suggestion to GND advocates is that if they want to be seen as working for all Americans — no doubt a good thing with another “change” election coming up — that they remedy this omission tout suite.

    Yes. There is so much potential to enlist and employ people to fix their communities that people could vote for concrete, material benefits. Not doing so, however, risks blowback and the maligning of the GND as just another techno-greenwash. It may be, if it fixates on the provisioning of electricity and transport, etc. while ignoring the mundane but necessary foundational work.

    How GND policy makers address this—if they address it at all, will reveal much about their intentions.

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  12. Oregoncharles

    “a re-prairied Midwest” would be a flood control project, as the prairies would hold back water far better than roads or fields. The Great Plains were formerly laced with wetlands; most of that has been drained, affecting especially the Missouri.

    Dambuilding has quite severe impacts on the mostly rural and poor people, sometimes indigenous, whose homes are flooded. So that’s another caveat. Hydropower does substitute for fossil fuel, though.

    Reply
    1. twonine

      This might be looked at as a practice regenerative agriculture NOW map. I wonder what Gabe Brown’s farm in Bismark, ND looks like now, with upstream areas at flood? Carbon capture and water holding capacity change dramatically with decent practices.
      I recall when my dad sold his farm, the new owners did away with the contour farming/strip cropping in favor of mono-cropping straight up and down the hill. I got 6″ of topsoil deposited on my garden from runoff the next spring along with tripling the width of the stream due to erosion.

      Reply
  13. Henry Moon Pie`

    Resilience is not a central concept in the GND, and it should be. More broadly, the GND should adopt Deep Adaptation: Resilience, Relinquishment and Restoration as its strategic approach. Can you imagine the howls on Fox and among Republicans at that?

    And there is the big problem we’re facing. There is no Walter Cronkite who can come on a TV special with 85% of households tuned in and explain to us that we’ve screwed ourselves and must radically change the way we live. There are no widely believed news sources any more. Even before this hyper-partisan (but without substance) political environment, an American President was ridiculed and rejected when he tried to make a similar call.

    How do you spend a hundred years and huge amounts of resources to turn human beings into consuming machines and debt slaves, then turn on a dime and convince them to reject materialism and accept a simpler, more arduous way of living? How do you do it when we’re already separated into our little tribes and reject any word emanating from outside tribal boundaries?

    I’m not saying these problems are insoluble, but they must be taken into account when planning any justifiably ambitious plan for dealing with ecocide.

    Reply
    1. Eclair

      “There is no Walter Cronkite who can come on a TV special with 85% of households tuned in and explain to us that we’ve screwed ourselves and must radically change the way we live. There are no widely believed news sources any more.”

      Gosh, yes, Henry MP!

      All part of the nation’s loss of trust in our government as well as our MSM sources. Some days I put on my foily hat and think that it is part of ‘the plan’ to keep us at each others’ throats. But it is probably just that the dominant national narrative is fraying, as thousands begin to question both its veracity as well as its usefulness in helping us navigate the perils of a planet in distress.

      Whether we can weave a new dominant national narrative that we can all use to forge ahead, or whether there will be competing narratives that each capture and inspire, or enrage, a swath of the population, is the critical question.

      We live in interesting times, no?

      Reply
  14. Carolinian

    Actually Dr.Strangelove was filmed in England. A second unit did the stuff at the airbase. Similarly the opening shots of The Shining are Glacier Nat Park’s Going to the Sun highway–filmed while Stanley made the film on a stage in Britain. The prescient Kubrick had a big fear of flying.

    And even my town’s creek/river has been having record flood’s the last few months. Whatever the reason the weather is very odd.

    Reply

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