Elbow Room for Missouri's Great Rivers

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

levees to keep the rivers out. The Great Flood of ‘93 overtopped some of those levees. However, the price of developable land kept rising and now, nine years later, the tide of real estate values has risen high enough to drown caution and start another cycle of levee building and development. More green space, with its potential for nature and recreation, is being lost.

Equally important, levee construction reduces space where flood waters can spread out. When wet years return, as they always do, where will the water go? The only place left is up and over levees, creating new devastation.

A study by the Community Policy Analysis Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia revealed that, while commercial property is worth more and is taxed at a higher rate than agricultural or other undeveloped land, in many instances providing services to intensively developed land is so costly that it consumes all the resulting tax revenues and more. This can leave communities worse off financially and can create persistent social and economic problems associated with unchecked urban sprawl.

Reasons for hope

All this might make rampant flood plain development sound depressingly inevitable. It isn't. Many people see what's happening and want to do something about it. Politicians, prominent citizens, nature lovers, conservation interests, farmers and some city leaders are among the movers and shakers who hope to break the self-perpetuating cycle.

One example is the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance (GRHA). Adolphus A. Busch IV and August Busch III, in honor of their father's (August Busch Jr.) 100th birthday, spearheaded a GRHA drive that raised $4.5 million for wetland restoration in the Midwest. This diverse group includes St. Louis area developer Don Musick, prominent area attorney Peter von Gontard, Charlie Hager, vice president of Hager Hinge Co. and Jim Blair IV, whose family history of public service includes a Missouri governor and a conservation commissioner.

Of the money raised, $1.5 million went to help develop about half of the 13,732-acre Four Rivers Conservation Area, $500,000 went to B.K. Leach Conservation Area, and the rest went to Ducks Unlimited for future wetland restoration efforts in the Midwest.

GRHA Executive Director Wayne Freeman says the group works with government agencies and nonprofits to preserve flood plain land. The confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers is a special concern of the group because economic pressures already are chipping away at the 80,000 acre delta.

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