Water resources planning and management has evolved in the United States through several distinct stages over the past two centuries, transitioning from a concern for inland waterways transportation to single purpose flood control and finally to multiple purpose large reservoirs. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) was always considered to be one of the main goals of these strategies. Reviewing history, this paper describes a US federal system that presents major challenges to coordinating water resources development and DRR, at both the watershed and metropolitan area scales. The paper reviews the performance of existing flood protection systems of three recent disasters. Federal, state and local responses to these major events have been mixed, as regulatory and management agencies with different evaluation frameworks and decision rules attempt to coordinate their respective responses. The cases revealed new vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the US DRR responses and planning, while contrasting the relative successes of long-term, strategic DRR planning and investments in the case of the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) system. The paper analyzes this history and recent cases primarily from the perspective of the US Army Corps of Engineers.