Task Force Questions Flood-Control Levees

NEARLY a year after the 1993 Midwest floods, a White House task force is recommending a shift in federal flood-protection policies.

The panel's draft report, released last week, rejects the Army Corps of Engineers' traditional reliance on engineering solutions such as levees and dams. During last year's floods, levees were criticized for simply pushing water into other areas.

``We recognize that levees are a problem, and we have some ideas in the report on how to address that,'' task force director Army Gen. Gerald Galloway told a Senate committee on May 26.

The panel of government experts recommends more federal support for relocations out of flood-prone areas and conversion of low-lying farmland into natural wetlands. Several existing programs assist flood-plain residents who choose to relocate after being hit by a flood, and water-logged Midwesterners are showing increased interest.

But the recommended policy shift would provide financial incentives for flood-plain residents to move voluntarily before high waters hit. This would avoid the need for expensive emergency relief, saving the taxpayers' money in the long run, the task force argues. At the Senate hearing, Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois criticized the current Mississippi River flood-control strategy as ``a series of Band-Aids.''

Environmentalists and conservation groups reacted positively to the draft report, which makes many of their own arguments. ``This report signals an end to more than two centuries of flood-control policies that have relied on levees and engineering solutions,'' says Scott Faber, director of flood-plain programs for American Rivers in Washington. It calls for ``turning flood control on its head.''

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