The Flood Control Act of 1936 was signed into law on June 22, 1936 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The act authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct civil engineering projects such as dams, levees, flood gates, and other flood control measures throughout the United States.
This was one of the first pieces of American legislation that established the responsibility of the federal government to protect people and property as long as the economic benefit did not outweigh the cost. Additionally, the legislation caused the federal government to have the War Department (precursor to the Department of Justice) run investigations and provide recommended improvements for rivers and waterways to increase flood control infrastructure. The Act places sill erosion, watershed, and water flow retardation under the purview of the Chief of Engineers.
Prior to 1936, three prior Flood Control Acts had been passed (1917, 1920, and 1928) in response to several devastating floods in the 1800's and early 1900's. Following the Great Depression, several pieces of legislation were enacted to help put Americans back to work as part of The New Deal. Several versions of this bill have since been enacted.
Follow-on legislation in 1937, the Water Resources Development Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act built on this initial legislation. The act was amended in 1977 to “appraise the status and trends of soil, water, and related resources on non-Federal land and assesses their capability to meet present and future demands, evaluate current and needed programs, policies, and authorities; and develop a national soil and water conservation program to give direction to USDA soil and water conservation activities.”
Between 1936 and 1937, $360 million was spent on these projects with the proviso that local communities would be responsible for maintaining the completed projects over time. Congress has since 1936 authorized the Corps of Engineers to construct hundreds of miles of artificial levees and flood control constructs including 375 large reservoirs and dams. The projects resulting from this act have fundamentally changed the physical plant status of the United States. These measures have saved the U.S. an incalculable amount of money by preventing property damage, and protecting millions of citizens from worry, injury and death.
See also Dams ; Levee .
Arnold, Joseph L. “The Evolution of the Flood Control Act of 1936.” United States Army Corps of Engineers, 1988.
Altherr, T. “Review: The Evolution of the Flood Control Act of 1936.” Environmental History Review: Spring 1991.
74th CONGRESS. SESS. II. CHS. 651, 688. Flood Control Act of 1936. June 22, 1936. http://www.ccrh.org/comm/cottage/primary/1936.html (accessed October 17, 2012).
Alyson C. Heimer, MA