Politics Distorts the Science of Floods

Guest post by Jim Steele

published in the Pacifica Tribune June 12, 2019What’s Natural

Politics Distorts the Science of Floods

At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, native American “mound builders” built Cahokia, the largest city in pre-Columbus America. The purpose of their mounds is still debated. Were the mounds refuges from frequent floods, strategic defenses from hostile attacks, or monuments to ruling elites? I suspect all of the above. During warmer and more arid times with minor flooding, Cahokia’s population expanded. By 1250 AD its population equaled contemporary London or Paris. Charles Mann wrote about Cahokia in his superb book  1491, “the kings who gained their legitimacy from claims to control the weather, would face angry questions from their subjects” when the catastrophic floods returned.  Indeed, as severe flooding increased, Cahokia was eventually abandoned.

Great Flood of 1927 Mississippi River

Eerily, in the wake of the 2019 Mississippi River Valley flooding, politicians are similarly telling flood victims that their climate policies can also control the weather. Washington’s Governor Inslee tweets, “For the people of Davenport, Iowa, climate change is personal. It’s destroying their homes, harming their communities, and hurting their livelihoods. We must defeat the climate crisis to protect our fellow Americans.” Senator Warren tweeted, “the consequences of climate change are severe, and they are already affecting places like Burlington, Iowa. We have a moral responsibility to act.”  But these politicians ignore the science and long history of the Mississippi’s floods.

Investigating causes of Cahokia’s abandonment, scientists uncovered natural climate cycles

governing the region’s flooding. Large floods were common between 300 AD and 600 AD.  Then between 600 AD and 1200 AD more arid conditions prevailed. But after 1200 AD severe flooding returned. Natural ocean oscillations can explain alternating patterns of dry and wet periods. So accordingly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expresses low confidence regards any global warming effect on modern flooding.

Over the Atlantic Ocean exists a large and somewhat permanent atmospheric pressure system named the North Atlantic Subtropical High (NASH), or Bermuda High. Its clockwise rotation critically effects the climate of the eastern United States. NASH is the reason the eastern United States experiences very humid summers in contrast to the dry west because on NASH’s western edge, warm moist air from the south is pumped northward. More importantly, NASH regulates regional droughts and floods. NASH naturally shifts locations over decades driven by natural ocean oscillations like El Nino. When NASH shifts further to the west, more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is pumped into the Great Plains causing more floods. When shifted further east, the Midwest suffers more droughts.

Non-scientific journalists and media talking heads falsely insinuate recent extreme flooding is due to global warming. They parrot a single fact that “warmer air can hold more moisture”. Although true, that fact is grossly misapplied. The earth’s warmest air temperatures happen over deserts, but there the air is bone dry. The key to extreme rainfall is not temperature, but how much moisture is transported from the oceans to the land. During cooler times, severe Mississippi Valley floods were observed in 1809, 1829, 1844, 1851, 1874 and 1882. The Great Flood of 1927 is considered the Mississippi Valley’s greatest modern flood. Due to the transport of excessive moisture from the Gulf, average rainfall nearly doubled in 1927.

In contrast to global warming predictions, the Mississippi River Valley also experienced below average winter temperatures and above average snowfall in early 2019. The National Weather Service issued early warnings that the melting snow could cause flooding. They further warned the frozen ground and saturated soils wouldn’t absorb the excess water, additionally swelling streams and rivers.

So many farmers are rightfully rejecting the politicians’ climate claims. Instead farmers blame the Army Corps of Engineers for breached levees and improperly managing levee systems. Levees had seduced people to move into the flood plains. People assumed those levees would always be maintained. But worse, the levee systems unintentionally elevated flooding probabilities.

Each year high water levels from snowmelt and spring rains cause rivers to approach flood stage. Excess water would normally get stored on natural floodplains, minimizing downstream floods. But when levees deny a river’s access to its flood plains, higher volumes of flood water get shunted downstream. Instead of allowing flood waters to spread out, levees narrow a river’s channel width, forcing the river to rise much higher than normal. Thus researchers had warned, “river engineering has elevated flood hazard on the lower Mississippi to levels that are unprecedented within the last five centuries.” 

Blaming CO2 climate change only misguides attention from these real problems. If politicians sincerely hope to promote wise flood protection, they better educate themselves regards natural climate cycles and the unintended consequences of separating rivers from their flood plains.

Jim Steele is retired director of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, SFSU

and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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Rhys Jaggar
June 14, 2019 2:32 pm

It is an historical irony that so many major conurbations have been built on flood plains. A failure of local government, a failure of architecture, a failure of water management.

It is the same in Europe.

It is also a consequence of the abondonment of nomadic existences. Nomads avoid rivers at times of flood, fish in them during salmon runs, grow crops away from flood plains. They carry their homes on their backs or on animals’ backs.

Architecture embracing flood plain designs sound sensible to me…

Reply to  Rhys Jaggar
June 16, 2019 8:44 pm

Flood plains were favoured because of good soil…..similarly the soils around active volcanoes.

Memory fades. If the last flood or eruption was beyond grandpa or grandma’s time thay fade into myth.
Until the next flood or eruption…

In present times times local governments have allowed development on floodplains out of a mixture of ignorance, corruption and greed.

June 14, 2019 2:32 pm

When a politician’s strategy is nothing but fear mongering, education isn’t needed.

Walter Sobchak
June 14, 2019 2:46 pm

In the Midwest, there is always plenty of high ground to move to.

June 14, 2019 2:49 pm

“Great Flood of 1927 Mississippi River”

Those poor flivvers.

John F. Hultquist
June 14, 2019 2:53 pm

I suspect the level of the Great Lakes follows this sequence, but I haven’t checked.

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
June 15, 2019 4:56 am

Here is the Corps of Engineers report for the Great Lakes levels. The high level marks were in 1986…until recently. The low levels were in the 1920s and 1930s.
Just a few years ago some were blaming low levels on AGW. The same people are blaming the current high levels on AGW.

In 1986 I testified before our legislature seeking $6 million for mitigation measures for the high water. A colleague, having worked in the Great Lakes Shorelands program since the 1950s, pointed out to me the cyclical nature of the water levels. I haven’t seen any evidence since then that he was wrong.

Just like every other issue, if you dig deep enough and do enough research, natural variability is lurking somewhere.


June 14, 2019 2:59 pm

If water was more a commodity that could be sold and piped to further away customers, then it may pay to install similar storm retention ponds similar to a new subdivision…large storm surge ponds that take a portion of the flood into numerous deep water side channel basins that are maybe a half mile square and 40-50 feet deep which would be able to store up to 10,000 acre feet per pond in dead storage. The spoil from digging these storage basins could be used for further levee development. Every summer/fall they are pumped down near empty, and ready for the next season. Opening an screened side gate to the river at peak of freshet, they fill up to the level of the river and reduce the main river flow for a few weeks while part of the river flow is diverted into them and then they pumped down the rest of the year to irrigation and municipal customers, earning a profit to pay for creating these multiple flood storage basins. Depending on the size of the projected flood event would indicate the number of ponds that would need to be constructed.

Now this concept may not work for extreme high volume floods, but many floods are slow moving water in a flood plain with no where for the water to go. Perhaps because of frozen soils earlier in the spring, or impervious clay making percolation very slow such as the Red River. For every cubic foot or m3 of dirt that is dug out, that represents a perpetual supply of water to be sold every year to pay for the enterprise shaving off the peak of every freshet and/or reducing or eliminating the flood peak that generally only lasts a few weeks. Seeing that floods can wind up costing billions of dollars now, having this type of artificial insurance policy against the worst flood damage would pay for itself over time. It really isn’t any different than a dam regulating a river flow storing the water for later release downstream, other than the reservoir has to dug out one time. The water would need to be pumped out and sold to an end user, but the water would be a commodity earning a profit to pay for the entire enterprise.

This concept isn’t anything new, as even in ancient times, India hand dug similar smaller storage reservoirs they called Step Wells (some 250 feet deep) which collected the annual monsoon floods and kept the water for the drought time. And this was all done by hand, including carrying the water up the steps which were lined with rock to control erosion, and were usually accompanied by a temple because water was sacred. Some are still used to this day. The big problem would be licensing/permitting these, as water is probably the most contentious issue in the world and I can just see the environmentalists dead set against something like this. But it is grade school arithmetic calculating the peak river flows and the amount of dead storage you would need to reduce or eliminate the flood risk. Every bit would help.

Reply to  Earthling2
June 14, 2019 3:26 pm

How about if we simply pump the water west from the Missouri/Mississippi/Arkansas watersheds and/or east from the Sacramento Valley watersheds and re-create ancient Lake Lahontan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Lahontan) in NV and Lake Bonneville in UT/NV? Imagine the recreation opportunities (not to mention potential for absolutely insane evaporation-enhanced snowfalls in the Wasatch, Rockies & elsewhere… ). Prohibitively expensive? Probably, not to mention the enviro lawsuits…but the thought of so much great fishing for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is certainly enticing, not to mention so much water that the thought of ‘water rights’ becomes quaint. Have a great weekend, all!

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Earthling2
June 14, 2019 4:30 pm

Earthling2, …… me thinks your above is a great idea ……. except it is now bout “2 centuries late and a zillion dollars short”.

But now I have just thought up a wacky new idea to substantially decrease the “co$t” of the mighty Mississippi flooding events.

Just collect and re-process all that dastardly evil plastic …… to manufacture 20 feet wide by 1/16th inch thick …… flexible plastic sheeting in 100 and 200 feet rolls.

Then property owners who are situate in Mississippi-Missouri Flood Plain could purchase those “rolls of plastic sheeting” ….. and when threatened by a devastating flood they could just “wrap” their home or business and wait for the floodwaters to “come n’ go”. Then un-wrap the plastic and roll it back up to await the next flood event.

T’would be 2 problems solved ……. and a whole lot less “labor intensive” and more effective than “sandbagging” and praying.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
June 14, 2019 6:59 pm

Praying isn’t labor intensive. And you can’t prove it isn’t effective.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  F.LEGHORN
June 14, 2019 8:17 pm

Can you prove that the “effectiveness” of prayer is anything more than confirmation bias?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 15, 2019 7:18 pm

re: “Can you prove that the “effectiveness” of prayer is anything more than confirmation bias?”

To the degree that someone is granted sainthood?

Yes … I give you one of the latest, ST. Pope John Paul II.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 22, 2019 7:01 pm

“Yes … I give you one of the latest, ST. Pope John Paul II.”

How do you know that was due to prayer? Granting sainthood is something humans do, not evidence of divine providence.

Reply to  F.LEGHORN
June 14, 2019 9:00 pm

Samuel, your idea isn’t as wacky as you think. I have actually used a 10′ roll of 6 mil plastic to do exactly that with a few wraps on a few metal granaries that would be flooded for a few days/week. And it worked to a depth of 7-8 feet perfectly. It helps to have a concrete foundation to limit water coming in from underneath but even if not, just lay the plastic on the ground outward from the building and would need a row of sand bags around the perimeter. Might need a sump pump inside for seepage depending on your local details. And the windows and doors could possibly need a bit of reinforcement if a lot of area to cover, especially if lower where the pressure is highest. The ground point is always the trickiest to manage and helps to have a cut off foundation for limiting water ingress at the bottom.

I operate 3 smallish dams for a small hydro generation that I built myself. One is a 7 foot earth filled dam/lake I built with Ducks Unlimited for summer conservation and winter release flows to my hydro plants, but the other two are stoplog dams in a lake and the creek downstream, 8 feet high using 6×6 fir timbers in the bottom and 4×4 stop logs on the higher rows. They tend to leak between the joints so I just line the upstream face with 6 mil plastic.

The stoplog idea could be installed permanently around the perimeter of a house if a below grade concrete foundation cutoff was built just below ground level on the lawn around the perimeter of the house. When expecting a flood, install the 8 foot upright I Beams (on 8 foot centres) into the concrete foundation receptors, and then just add the wooden stop logs into the I beams around the perimeter of the house and brace back this stop log wall to a secure part of the house every 4 feet. Might need a sump pump inside the perimeter for leakage but could all be installed by a few guys in less than a day or less and keep the flood waters at bay for an extended period of time. And then it just a matter of removal after things are dried up and store the I Beams and stop logs for another year when required again. There would be other details like ensuring the sewer drains couldn’t back up into the house, but overall this could be a permanent solution to a building on a prone floodplain. This is all fairly easy engineering solutions and wonder why more of this isn’t planned into the civil infrastructure to avoid the worst of these flood damages. Sandbagging just seems like so much work.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Earthling2
June 15, 2019 7:22 am

Earthling2, thank you for that great response. I was 120% sure that my “plastic wrap” plan would work to prevent flood damage to homes and their contents …… but also know that posting such things without citing a “url” reference link to back up my comments will mostly only garner one with personal attacks from “naysayers” and/or those persons that believe one has to have an “alphabet” after their name to be believed.

And “Yes”, I love that 10 foot wide, 6 mil clear plastic sheeting. I first started using it in the mid-1970’s when I completely renovated a 2-story 1862 farm house. After insulating between the studding/rafters I covered all of the “insides” of the outside walls with it, including the upstairs ceilings,.

And if one were to “wrap” a house, I don’t think the windows and doors would need “reinforcement” unless they were in danger of being struck with fast moving water. The walls of the house themselves cannot withstand the pressure of “fast moving water”. Doors and windows should be safe with up to 17 feet of water depth.

And Earthling2, what I was thinking but didn’t include in my 1st post was, ….. to deploy the “plastic flood barrier”, ….. one should un-roll said 20 X 100 feet of sheeting, ….. and then re-roll 17 feet of it longitudally ….. and lay it around the house with a 3’ apron on the ground ….. and then one could “un-roll” it up the sides of the house ……. ahead of the rising flood waters.

And ps, that plastic sheeting will guarantee that “underground” basement walls will never “leak” water. Just coat the outside basement walls with “sticky” black tar” or “roof cement”, ….. then put the “sheeting” against the tar/cement and backfill it.


Neil Jordan
Reply to  Earthling2
June 16, 2019 7:41 am

Your suggestions and more are in FEMA publications:
Flood panels are available commercially, for example:
Re stop logs, a homeowner in a canyon purchased a house protected by a perimeter wall and stop logs, built by the previous owner. The new homeowner wasn’t informed about flash flooding in the canyon (wonder why?) and cut up all that nice dry lumber for firewood.

Pat Frank
Reply to  F.LEGHORN
June 15, 2019 11:28 am

There’s a story that the effectiveness of prayer was tested in the UK a couple of hundred years ago.

I forget the researcher, but the method was powerful. Hundreds of years of “god save the (king/queen),” should have resulted in monarchs with extended average life-spans. Such is the prediction of prayer effectiveness.

The negative result falsified the idea, apparently.

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  Earthling2
June 14, 2019 5:24 pm

You can also take excess river flows, pump them underground for storage, and retrieve them for use during drier conditions (aquifer storage and recovery, or ASR).

One problem with your solution is that you can’t dig 40-50 feet deep anywhere near the Mississippi. The water table is much too high.

Another problem is that you far underestimate the volume associated with this. The Mississippi River is not a lake of standing water you can drain excess water from and bring the level down. The gage upstream at Clinton, IA, has averaged about 110,000 cubic feet per second for the past calendar year and about 196,000 cfs since April 1 (hit flood stage before that, but let’s just start there). The difference between the last 75 days and 12-month average is 86,000 cfs. That’s 2 acre-feet PER SECOND. That excess would have filled to the brim about 1,300 of your dead storage locations (at 0.5 sq miles each, we’re talking 650 sq miles…over 25 miles by 25 miles), even allowing your farcical depths. And as you move-down the Mississippi, it is even worse. Less would be required if you only wanted to handle flows at or above flood stage for emergency purposes, but still…we’re talking immense volumes of water.

Storage can certainly help, but it should really be done at the local level where the snow melts and rain falls before it gets into waterways.

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
June 14, 2019 11:49 pm

Well, I did mention in my OP that it wasn’t designed for the higher volume flows. But even then, depending in the severity and duration of the flooding, being able to shave the peak off of a lower actual flood and divert the worst of the damaging peak to dead storage could alleviate much flood damage since most flooding isn’t the 1-100 year flood or worse like this year, but a 10% chance every year. We only need to divert 10,000 CFS in a lesser flood for a week to alleviate the worst of normal flood damage. The river will take the majority and the higher dykes would contain the river for the worst of the worst. Flooding would be a thing of the past, just like the Colorado now has any real chance of flooding anytime soon. I agree flood control has to start in the upper watershed with retention storage, and my suggestion is to create artificial negative storage along the river to harvest flood waters for water commodification. Because the water is sold for a profit with an arrangement for piping it to markets, that is how this additional earthen and pumping/pipeline work is paid for. Turn flood control into an opportunity.

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  Earthling2
June 15, 2019 10:00 am

Stormwater as a water resource is certainly an opportunity that is barely even considered in the US. Spending money on storage, treatment, use as replenishment for draining aquifers, etc., would be far more appropriate than spending it on climate change and its latest buzzword “resiliency.”

Storage along a river is really the floodplain itself…the problem is that we’ve built so much within it. And we’ve paved so many areas that normally absorb rainfall events, giving them an expressway to reaching waterbodies.

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
June 15, 2019 7:25 pm

re: “Stormwater as a water resource is certainly an opportunity that is barely even considered in the US.”

I beg your pardon?

I am drinking water from Lake Lavon as I type this, with Lake Lavon being a US Corp of Engineers lake designed to catch and hold, for later use, water runoff from streams and creeks in its watershed.

Our “water resource board”: the NTMWD – Our raw water supply comes from several storage and recreational reservoirs, which is later treated and distributed for potable drinking water for 1.7 million residents.

In fact, this is the case for the entire DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth area) where US Corp of Engineers lakes (and other such properties) are the source of water for the populace.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Michael Jankowski
June 18, 2019 10:30 am

If someone is going to live on a flood plain, they should build their structures on stilts! The area under a house or barn becomes a large carport.

Darwin Grigg
Reply to  Earthling2
June 15, 2019 5:28 pm

Sounds a bit like the concept of building a bunch of flood-control reservoirs on the rivers, which are now being ripped out by the dozens to restore our ‘free-flowing’ rivers. And, where ever the storage basins are proposed, someone will probably discover a hitherfore-unknown endangered species to protect.

Joel Snider
June 14, 2019 3:18 pm

You could rewrite the headline to say ‘Progressives Distort Science’, and you could pretty much apply it to any story from here on out.

Add the sub-head, ‘Exploited For Agenda’ and that covers everything.

Ken Mitchell
June 14, 2019 3:57 pm

Mark Twain’s book “Life on the Mississippi” includes a couple of chapters of (in the 1840s/1850s) of rescuing people from flooded areas by sailing their riverboat over the flooded countryside. There was no “climate change” or extensive river constructions; that was the “natural” Mississippi River. I’m skeptical of claims that the floods are so much worse now than they were then.

And growing up in Illinois in the mid-1960s, there were annual calls for volunteers to erect sandbag barriers around low-lying towns; this, also, is not new.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Ken Mitchell
June 14, 2019 5:29 pm

The mid-19th Century was the tail end of the LIA. Colder mid-latitude climates are stormier, more intense precipitation events, more tornadoes. Warmer brings milder climates. Actual scientists will acknowledge this. But our current crop of carnival-barking charlatan rent-seeking academic climate pseudoscientists say warmer will bring more floods and droughts.

Reply to  Ken Mitchell
June 14, 2019 5:52 pm

Ken Mitchell

Mark Twain’s book “Life on the Mississippi” includes a couple of chapters of (in the 1840s/1850s) of rescuing people from flooded areas by sailing their riverboat over the flooded countryside. There was no “climate change” or extensive river constructions; that was the “natural” Mississippi River. I’m skeptical of claims that the floods are so much worse now than they were then.

As late as 1926, the Mississippi River people were flooded out, and sought shelter on the Indian mounds scattered across the plains from St Louis south towards Jackson MS and further south, and as far east as Etowah GA and north AL. Which is one theory of why the ancient Mississippian Indian cultures built their mounds: To shelter the tribes, their animals, their food, their property and their slaves, their children and women from periodic, unpredictable floods every year!

June 14, 2019 3:59 pm

The Greeens are against everything, and its about time the rest of the
population realised this and thus stop voting for them.


Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Michael
June 18, 2019 10:32 am

Unfortunately, it is difficult for the “rest of the population” to become enlightened when the ‘news’ media have bought into the alarm and keep reinforcing the meme.

Joel O'Bryan
June 14, 2019 4:19 pm

“Washington’s Governor Inslee tweets, “For the people of Davenport, Iowa, climate change is personal. It’s destroying their homes, harming their communities, and hurting their livelihoods. We must defeat the climate crisis to protect our fellow Americans.” Senator Warren tweeted, “the consequences of climate change are severe, and they are already affecting places like Burlington, Iowa. We have a moral responsibility to act.”

None of this climate change is about science anymore. It is total junk science peddledpeddled by rent-seeking charlatan academics for political purpose.

Inslee’s and Warren’s strategy is the same as all the other Dumbocrats…
“Surrender your wallet, your IRA/401K’s, and your personal liberties to me and I’ll save you from bad weather, meanwhile I’m also gonna need your inexpensive gasoline, natural gas, and electricity for my wealthy friends.”

These toads need to be tarred and feathered, then laughed out of town. They are doing nothing more than a voodoo priest claiming to speak to the spirits and gods with sacrifices. It is of course the “sacrifices” or treasure and servitude in which the voodoo priests really want.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
June 14, 2019 8:21 pm

Inslee thinks the Sun coming up is due to climate change. He is truly the dimmest of bulbs.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 15, 2019 6:51 am

And he is the most self-absorbed. That kind of self-righteousness is truly a dangerous thing. Plus, his state has rich hydro-energy; it’s easy to preach about renewables when that’s the case.

June 14, 2019 4:46 pm

It should also be pointed out that the flooding of the flood plains recharge the aquifers and enrich the soils of depleted minerals.

June 14, 2019 4:48 pm

Seems like an opportunity to build dams upstream, harvest the “green” energy, keep top soil
out of the Gulf of Mexico, and control floods at the same time?
Or just keep channelizing rivers, build on floodplains (and barrier islands) and biatch about global warming , I mean climate change.
My first job after uni was with the US Army Corps of Engineers. It was different then (about managing resources, and flood control) but there were whiffs of natural and wild rivers even then.

Big T
June 14, 2019 5:25 pm

Thousands of acres paved, cemented, housing complexes, yearly,= millions more gallons of water. Where does it go? Guess.

Reply to  Big T
June 15, 2019 7:31 pm

re: “Thousands of acres paved, cemented, housing complexes, yearly,= millions more gallons of water. Where does it go?”

Into US Corps of Engineers lakes and reservoirs?

It does in our area anyway. The DFW area.


Gary Pearse
June 14, 2019 5:31 pm

I commented a few years ago that floodwaters could be ponded at choice locations for aquifer recharge, too. It was related to the feast and famine flooding in California, but it would be also a good project for recharging the Ogalla aquifer that stretches from North Dakota to Texas. Diverting floodwater from the Missouri could serve this purpose and partially mitigate the spring flooding.

ferd berple
June 14, 2019 5:47 pm

It is amazing the number of people that ignore “FLOODPLAIN” in the legal description when buying a house.

It wasn’t global warming that added that word and no amount of political promises to the gullible will remove it.

Smart Rock
June 14, 2019 6:15 pm

Thank you Jim Steele for another thoughtful article that allows facts to speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, thoughtful doesn’t go over very well in the current atmosphere of hysterically overheated alarmism, where every normal weather event is held up as evidence of human-caused climate change, and debate is heresy.

John in Oz
June 14, 2019 7:41 pm

I recommend the reading of “Dirt – The Erosion of Civilisations” by David R. Montgomery 2007, University of California Press
isbn-13: 978–0-520–24870–0 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn-10: 0–520–24870–8 (cloth : alk. paper)
I have a pdf version that, from memory, I heard of through WUWT, either an article herein or a comment in one

A sample relevant to this discussion (my bold):

Today, the Chinese people overwhelmingly live on the alluvial plains where great rivers descending from the Tibetan Plateau deposit much of their load of silt. Flooding has been a problem for thousands of years on the Huanghe, better known in the West as the Yellow River, a name imparted by the color of dirt eroded from the river’s deforested headwaters. Before the first levees and dikes were constructed in 340 bc, the river meandered across a broad floodplain. In the second century bc the river’s Chinese name changed from Great River to Yellow River when the sediment load increased tenfold as farmers began plowing up the highly erodible silty (loess) soils into the river’s headwaters.
The earliest communities along the Yellow River were situated on elevated terraces along tributaries. Only later, after the area became densely populated, did people crowd onto the floodplain. Extensive levees to protect farmlands and towns along the river kept floodwaters, and the sediment they carried, confined between the levees. Where the river hit the plains, the weakening current began dropping sediment out between the levees instead of across the floodplain. Rebuilding levees ever higher to contain the floodwaters ensured that the riverbed climbed above the alluvial plain about a foot every century.
By the 1920s the surface of the river towered thirty feet above the floodplain during the high-water season. This guaranteed that any flood that breached the levees was devastating. Floodwaters released from the confines of the levees roared down onto the floodplain, submerging farms, towns, and sometimes even whole cities beneath a temporary lake. In 1852 the river jumped its dikes and flowed north, flooding cities and villages and killing millions of people before draining out hundreds of miles to the north. More than two million people drowned or died in the resulting famine when the river breached its southern dike and submerged the province of Henan during the flood of 1887–89. With the river flowing high above its floodplain, levee breaches are always catastrophic.

There are many other examples of how we tend to destroy ourselves by not taking care of the land we live on and we are continuing to not learn the lessons from history

June 14, 2019 8:38 pm

They were smart. They abandoned a city which was frequently flooded.
Our numbskulls have been building on estuaries and flood plains for centuries.
AND we continue to gnash our teeth and blame every thing imaginable whenever there is a flood (a la climate change!!!).

June 14, 2019 9:10 pm

Damn you flood plains!

June 14, 2019 11:57 pm

Another “required” reading is John McPhee’s “Control of Nature”. Gives much perspective.

Gilbert K. Arnold
Reply to  rms
June 15, 2019 5:54 am

To add to the required reading list is Luna Leopold’s (son of Aldo Leopold) book: “A View of the River”. Available at Amaon or Barnes&Noble.

June 15, 2019 4:46 am

Thank you – they need to raise this issue to the powers that be – because they keep building more levees. You would think at some point they would understand that levees were making matters worse.

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