In Ted Steinberg’s book Acts of God: the Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America, the author discusses how disaster planning and disaster recovery have impacted the way in which Americans treat acts of God. In Chapter five, “Uncle Sam—Flood Plan Recidivist,” the author gives an excellent review of the history of flooding in an area of Missouri. St. Charles County, Missouri has struggled with flooding for centuries. The author examines the issue from the time when white settlers first moved to the area several centuries ago. It is important to remember that civilizations were traditionally built upon the banks of rivers. The rivers were necessary to ensure transportation and the sale of commercial goods. Furthermore, rivers were crucial for farming, as will be discussed.
The author examines how the floodplain has been used in a series of political actions. Unfortunately, the people who suffer the most from the squabbling of politics are the ones who live in an area called the “triangle of death.” This area is formed by the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. It is apparent why this area struggles with flooding. However, the truly sad aspect of the use of this area of land is that it is predominantly inhabited by those of lower socioeconomic status. There are a number of farmers within the area. As the author examines, farmers are, on average, appreciative of an occasional flood; Steinberg estimates that a farmer can accept a flood every twenty years of so. Flooding is beneficial to farm land. It replenishes the nutrients in the soil that are lost to farming. It therefore helps to ensure that the farmers have fertile land for their crops. However, the most dangerous parts of the region are inhabited by the poor who live in mobile homes. This obviously increases the danger for them, both physically and economically. The housing is cheap in the area because of the risk of flooding; this is essentially the only place where the poor can afford homes.
The author discusses how attempts to increase the safety of those who live in the “triangle of death” have been troubled with politics and economics over the last few decades. The landlords of the properties have, of course, the most to lose. They do not want to make any substantial improvements to the land. This would cost them money. They prefer to accept the rent from their tenants every month without having to ensure the safety of their tenants. The author gives a well-founded description of how this has played out in the area. Some of the poor tenants wanted to be moved from the area; the rich landlords balked at the very idea.
The author also discusses the fight over constructing levees in the area. This is a crucial segment of the chapter. The farmers wanted levees that would protect their land. The stop-gap measures used at the time were not adequate. However, the federal government and the environmentalists were against the project. The flood of 1973 was actually worsened by the levees that were in place. Levees are, by nature, a controversial. They are also expensive. The current levee system in Kansas City, Missouri have recently undergone improvements at a cost of $8.2 million. However, the engineers point out that they have an annual benefit of $33 billion (Stroda). The issues surrounding levees were clearly discussed in Steinberg’s book. However, it is important to remember how many lives they may save and the economic benefit that they provide to a community.