A `Greener Approach' for River Des Peres? New Flood Study Will Look More to Environment

By Robert L. Koenig Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

A `Greener Approach' for River Des Peres? New Flood Study Will Look More to Environment


Robert L. Koenig Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


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 Mississippi basin.

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 river navigation.

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. …

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