CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It may be little consolation to victims of this year's round of spring flooding, but some of the lessons learned from the catastrophic flood of the Upper Mississippi River basin in 1993 may finally be sinking in, according to University of Illinois researcher Daniel Schneider.
"After the '93 floods, we saw that there was an opportunity to change things so the damage wouldn't be so great in the future," said Schneider, a professor of urban and regional planning and professional scientist in the Illinois Natural History Survey's Center for Aquatic Ecology. Schneider serves on a state-appointed advisory committee charged with recommending effective means of addressing flooding problems on the Illinois River. Among the most obvious solutions identified by the group, he said, is "in cooperation with landowners, restoring natural wetlands in the floodplain."
And while that may be a logical solution in theory, implementation is not simple. Aside from the economic and political ramifications associated with reclaiming bottomlands currently devoted to agricultural use, cultural perspectives must be considered as well. A long history of conflict over the use of the river has left emotional high-water marks on residents of river communities, Schneider said.
Schneider became interested in that history while studying current policies,
practices and traditions along the Illinois River. "I knew that levees
weren't always there," he said, which led him to wonder what land uses
the systems of levees had replaced. Subsequent research prompted by that
question revealed a deep history, which, Schneider said, is not well-known.
He chronicled that history in "Enclosing the Floodplain: Resource Conflict
on the Illinois River, 1880-1920," a paper published last year in the
journal Environmental History. In it, and a related report presented to
the American Society for Environmental History in March, Schneider documented
a fierce and sometime
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign