Flood control requires political will, large amounts of capital, and the help of mother nature whether you're dealing with the Brisbane River's 7,668 square mile drainage basin in Australia or the Mighty Mississippi's 1,245,000 square mile drainage basin, the 3rd largest in the world. Click to enlarge the map that shows the hills and levees that help confine the lower Mississippi River to her channel.
Taming the Mississippi for navigation, commerce, and to prevent flooding became official U. S. policy in 1879 when Congress established the Mississippi River Commission. But the Commission had neither the manpower nor the money to make the goal a reality. In 1882 Congress enacted the Rivers & Harbors Act and placed responsibility for the river under the Secretary of War. Under this arrangement, the work would be carried out by the US Army Corps of Engineers with the Commission as supervisor.
Work started, but the flood of 1912 showed that the levees were not high or strong enough to prevent flooding and the destruction and disruption that came with it. All 3 national political parties - the Democratic, Republican, and Progressive - jumped on the bandwagon: Woodrow Wilson in his address accepting the nomination of the Democratic party stated that the Federal Government should build and maintain levees for flood protection. President Taft said that he supported flood control and that sooner or later the levee system would have to be nationalized. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, the nominee of the Progressive party, came to Memphis to speak and again voiced support for flood control.
After the election, the issue was pushed to the back burner during Wilson's first term. In 1917 the federal government first appropriated money for the construction of levees for flood control purposes. The authorization was for $45 million. With the outbreak of World War I, levee work was postponed, and it was not until after the horrific flood of 1927 that large amounts of flood control funds were made available.
For more information, Bobby J. Williams in Mid-South Views the Floods of 1912 and 1913 tells the fascinating history.
Australian designer Dan Hill was in Brisbane during the recent flooding and has posted comments, photos, and video; for an eye-witness report and analysis, click HERE.
Short on time? "Grist" summarizes some of Hill's key points; one of those being that urban sprawl was a key culprit; click HERE.