Adam Rogers: Our Engineering Made Mississippi River Floods Worse


Scientists and anyone who lives within a hundred miles of the winding Mississippi River will tell you—have told you, repeatedly, for 150 years—that efforts to tame the river have only made it more feral. But scientists would like more than intuition, more than a history of 18th-century river level gauges and discharge stations, more than written and folkloric memory. They would like proof...

So climate change causes floods, right? Hah! Too easy. Muñoz’s group ran a statistical model, based on the climate over the entire period of time they now had flood records for, estimating how much more worse flooding should have gotten based on climate change alone. “It comes up with a little bit of an increase, like a 5 percent increase in how big the biggest floods should be,” Muñoz says. “But not all the increase.”

Overall flood risk has gone up 20 percent, the team says. But 75 percent of that risk comes from human engineering of the Mississippi for navigation and flood control.