The Government Responds
After cresting on April 17th, the Mississippi eventually returned to its St. Paul banks about two weeks later. The subsequent clean-up and debates over future flood control, however, took significantly longer. The Upper Levee and Lower West Side neighborhoods were an immediate issue -- still poor, surrounded by industry, lacking most municipal services, and for the second consecutive spring covered in sand, mud, timber, and fuel, both would require extensive city funds for protection from future floods. As soon as April 18th, local politicians and editorials were casting the flood as a clarion call for the relocation of riverbank residents, and subsequent industrial development of the land. Within a decade, both the Upper Levee and Lower West Side had been cleared by the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the former housing Kaplan Brothers Scrapyard and Shepard Road, the latter Riverview Industrial Park and similar developments.
Nationally, requests for federal aid linked flood control to national defense and the Korean War effort. The Minnesota congressional delegation, for example, utilized specific (War) Production Authority figures to support its request for emergency aid and future protection. Congressional delegates from flood-stricken areas throughout the Midwest (the lower Ohio had wrought even more damages than the Upper Mississippi) also began to call for an expansion of the federal role in future flood control efforts. The St. Paul Pioneer Press noted:
"There is a strong feeling among some congressmen that the denuding of forestland, the drainage of swamps, and even the maintenance of high water levels for navigation has contributed to the flood situation. After going this far to interfere with nature, they think the government must go the rest of the way and provide for orderly disposal of the surplus water." (April 20, 1952, p. 2-2)
Several congressman even proposed turning flood control duties over from the Army Corps of Engineers to its bureaucratic rival, the Bureau of Reclamation. Though quite occupied building dams throughout the West, the Bureau was eager to gain a foothold east of the Mississippi, perhaps even on it. However, formal debate of the idea never came to pass.
Flood emergency funds were quickly released to the affected Midwestern states after an air tour by President Truman. However, St. Paul declined most of the funds that were allotted to it by the State of Minnesota, citing both a desire to maintain a balanced state budget and the fact that, because the majority of flooded land in the city was commercially owned, the private sector could pay for the clean up. Even with business bearing such expense, and despite the President's assertion that "it is not necessary for these things to happen," the clamor on Capitol Hill for long-term federal flood control projects, like the muddy waters of the Mississippi, gradually receded as well.
Did You Know?
At Lake Itasca, the elevation of the Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop occurs within the state of Minnesota.