Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


PINTER, Nicholas, Geology Department, Southern Illinois University, SIU Parkinson Lab 203, Mailcode: 4325, Carbondale, IL 62901-4325, ELLISON, Elizabeth, Geology Dept, Southern Illinois Univ, 1259 Lincoln Drive, Carbondale, IL 62901, CASAGRANDE, David, Environmental Initiative & Dept. of Anthropology, Lehigh University, STEPS Building, Room 436, Bethlehem, PA 18015 and ANZ, Craig, School of Architecture, Southern Illinois University, 410 Quigley Hall, MC4337, Carbondale, IL 62901,

In April and May of 2011, intense precipitation concentrated on the lower Ohio River valley resulted in record flood stages near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. At Cairo, Illinois, the flood reached 18.81 m (61.72 ft) above local gage datum, threatening and significantly damaging the US federal levee system there. Intense efforts, principally coordinated by the Army Corps of Engineers, were aimed at reducing the maximum flood stage in the Ohio-Mississippi confluence area, including dynamiting the "fuse levee" and activating the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway for the first time since 1937. On May 2 of 2011, the Len Small Levee failed, inundating >20,000 acres of Illinois floodplain and over 200 structures in the town of Olive Branch. Shortly thereafter, Southern Illinois University and other partners began working with Olive Branch to rebuild a town substantially immune from future flood damages.

It is axiomatic to most scientists that flooding is a natural process that leads to disasters only when humans and human infrastructure are sited inappropriately. This paradigm – part of the "Room for the River" approach – is a good starting point, but one that fails to penetrate far into the realities of U.S. flood regulations and politics. Olive Branch residents and local leaders have been remarkably open to retreat from the floodplain. With support from the Walton Family Foundation, residents toured other towns in various stages of disaster recovery. We also convened a "charette" event, attended by national-level architects and planners who worked hand-in-hand with residents and developed detailed plans for a flood-resilient Olive Branch. Several large-scale funding requests have been submitted, with others pending. The 2011 flood and the on-going post-flood recovery in Olive Branch illustrate some successes in integrating sound science and engineering into floodplain management and disaster response. Counterbalancing these successes are ongoing challenges such as: (1) lack of manpower and expertise in such rural areas, (2) government disaster recovery programs that functionally impede game-changing mitigation, (3) conflicting federal policies, (4) local leadership issues, and (5) conflict between time needed to mitigate versus desire to quickly re-establish normalcy.