EVER SINCE Kaskaskia Indians accompanied by two Jesuit priests
set up camp at Le Riviere des Peres in 1700, settlers there have
endured floods backing up from the Mississippi River.
And since the 1800s, when engineers began tinkering with
rivers, St. Louisans have tried to keep floodwater from the
neighborhoods around the River Des Peres.
Now, the Flood of '93 has brought a new surge of interest in
improving flood control - and flood-plain management - along the
River Des Peres and at scores of other sites in the upper
With $2 million appropriated this fall by Congress, the Army
Corps of Engineers has started a new round of flood-control studies
in the Midwest. But those 18-month "reconnaissance reports" are
just the initial phase of studies that could end up taking many
more years and millions more dollars.
"We've done a lot of studies on the St. Louis area before, but
this will be different," said Harry E. Kitch, a top corps planner
in Washington. "We'll be taking a broader look - with more
environmental considerations in mind."
Surveying St. Louis
At the corps' Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss.,
river expert Tom Pokrefke towered over a 2-foot-high Gateway Arch,
part of a scale model of the Mississippi at St. Louis. When
Pokrefke turned on the water for that 450-foot-long model of the
St. Louis harbor this month, he was not analyzing flood control. He
was studying ways to improve navigation for barge tows.
Corps experts said most of the flood-control studies of the St.
Louis area will use computer models and detailed observations from
the record-breaking Flood of '93 - rather than the 30-year-old
concrete model of the St. Louis harbor, which was built to study
This fall, Congress appropriated $800,000 to study flood
control in the St. Louis region. The study will cover ,the River
Des Peres, the Chesterfield Valley, the St. Louis flood wall and
the towns of Lemay, Arnold, Kimmswick and Ste. Genevieve.
David Leake, chief planner for the corps' St. Louis district,
says the 18-month study will look at traditional solutions - such
as levees - as well as "non-structural" solutions. One possible
non-traditional option: buying out some homes in flood-prone areas
near the River Des Peres, and establishing a park there.
"Maybe we're getting a little greener in our approach," said
Anson Eickhorst, the corps' chief economist here.
He will evaluate damage from the summer's flood to assess costs
and benefits of various flood-control methods. After similar
studies of the River Des Peres area in the 1950s, the corps
rejected a flood gate or higher levees along the lower River Des
Peres as too expensive.
Even before the new corps study, local officials are trying to
cobble together federal aid to buy out as many as 175 homes and
businesses near the River Des Peres in south St. Louis, as well as
96 homes and 11 businesses in Lemay. Under the terms of the
buyouts, the land must revert to park land or other recreational
uses. No one will be able to build any more houses there.
Taming Upper Mississippi
After this summer's flood, the Post-Dispatch found major gaps
in federal agencies' knowledge about the upper Mississippi basin,
as well as flaws in the computer modeling of the river system.
For example, automatic gauges that give exact river
measurements broke at St. Charles and Grafton at the flood's peak -
making it difficult for researchers to analyze the flooding at the
crucial confluence of the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
"Because of that data problem, no one really knows exactly how
much of the floodwater covering parts of St. Charles County at the
flood's peak came from the Mississippi River, and how much came
from the Missouri River," said Douglas T. Shaw, a water-engineering
expert at the University of Illinois. …