But the notion runs afoul of residents – including farmers who work the fertile flood plains – who see the levees as sentinels protecting their homes, farms, and businesses.
"The big challenge to doing this is the fact that these flood plains are privately owned. People have made significant investments, including generations of families' time, turning them into productive farms," says Jeffrey Opperman, an ecologist and a senior adviser to The Nature Conservancy, which is testing the concept along the Ouachita River, a Mississippi River tributary, in northern Louisiana.
Any successful approach, he says, must be "very consistent with private-property rights."
The Corps has yet to decide if it will go ahead with the plan. But its preparations for routing water onto the flood plain on the west bank of the Mississippi between Cairo, Ill., and New Madrid, Mo., highlights the challenges.
Spring snowmelt from record winter snows in the northern US are coursing down the Mississippi, while the storm system that devastated the South brought heavy rain to an already saturated Ohio Valley. This is feeding into the Ohio River, which meets the Mississippi at Cairo.