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1958

Eisenhower initiates federal flood-control program

On this day in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Rivers and Harbors Flood Control Bill, which allocates funds to improve flood-control and water-storage systems across the country. Eisenhower had sent back two earlier bills to Congress, but was pleased with the revisions included in Senate Bill 3910.

The bill was introduced in the wake of disastrous and deadly floods caused by Hurricanes Connie and Diane, which hit the northeastern United States in August 1955. Torrential rains caused further damage in October of that year. According to the Connecticut State Library, Connecticut alone lost 91 people, while thousands more were left homeless and unemployed in the wake of the hurricanes described by newspaper reports at the time as the biggest disaster to hit the East Coast in the history of the United States. Eisenhower declared Connecticut a disaster area twice in 1955.

As part of a larger plan to construct, repair and preserve public works on rivers and harbors for navigation, flood control and a water supply, the bill contained specific provisions for hurricane flood protection. Although projects such as beach erosion, flood control and improving river navigation were promised over $870 million in federal funding, not nearly as much was allocated for future flood protection in hurricane-prone regions due to what Eisenhower called “the local nature” of hurricane effects and high risk of repeat occurrences. States and municipalities that could be directly affected by hurricanes were required to front 30 percent of any preventative projects. Eisenhower left it open for Congress to consider future “general legislation” on the subject of hurricane flood protection.

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