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Perfect Storm: Climate Change, Commercial Development, and Floodplains

Photo by Ursula Ruhl, South County Times

“How high’s the water, mama?” Johnny Cash sang in 1974. The  scary answer: “Five feet and risin.’”

The late, great Cash should have seen our flooding Meramec River, between Kirkwood and Fenton, earlier this month. He could have easily sang, “43 feet and risin.’”

By Don Corrigan (Webster-Kirkwood Times)

Cash would not have been singing about losing his bees and the chickens roosting up in the willow trees. Cash could have sang about losing the interstates and a stiff wind blowing waves over Olde Towne Fenton.

As we learned during our last 100-year flood, just about one year ago, the disaster is far from over after the water recedes. The cleanup and the costs pile up, even as the sandbags are unpiled and trucked away to yet another disposal site.

A major work party to remove debris and to address flood damage is planned for Kirkwood’s Greentree Park and Simpson Lake County Park on Saturday, June 3. Operation Clean Stream in Kirkwood is asking cleanup volunteers to meet at 8:30 a.m. at the picnic shelter in Greentree Park.

Operation Clean Stream’s motto for the post-flood cleanup is: “Stay flexible and go with the flow.” That’s because the lightning, wind and heavy rain may not be over for 2017.

A lot of frustrated people don’t want to stay flexible and “go with the flow.” They want answers.

They want to know why it’s flooding again? Why were the highways topped again? Is this climate change at work? Could that proposed Meramec Dam in the 1970’s have spared us this pain — if it had not been canceled?

An article in our Webster-Kirkwood edition last week featured an expert on wild flowers who talked about her past opposition to the Meramec Dam. A letter writer this week takes a swat at her for opposing the dam, which  she says could have stopped the rising water and its misery, so – “enjoy the wildflowers to the fullest.”

Could the planned dam have made a damned dime’s worth of difference?

Not so, according to Bob Criss with Washington University’s Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. Criss says the dam siting area was “Swiss cheese” and unsuitable for building.

“Knowledgeable geologists recommended against the site,” said Criss.  “The area, now Meramec State Park, is riddled with caves. It is difficult to grout up such ground, making catastrophic dam failure always a possibility. Some flood control.”

Criss also can point to any number of dammed watersheds that have not been rendered immune to flooding. That’s especially true with our more frequent freakish downpours.

Scientists with National Climate Assessment link our increasing Midwest downpours to rising global temperatures. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor leading to higher volumes of precipitation when the storm clouds roll in.

Add climate change to commercial development in floodplains and you get a perfect storm: “How high’s the water, mama? Eighty feet and risin’.”

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