Saturday, May 14, 2011

River Rising

In case you've been focused on other things, the Mississippi River is rising, causing a slow-moving flood to inundate portions of Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. All attention this morning is focused on the levee system, which should hold as the flood waters crest and recede. The US Army Corps of Engineers has already dynamited one levee in Missouri to relieve the pressure on the system and the flood is heading downstream in the form of a slow moving crest of water that's expected to pass my area in the next day or so. Imagine a natural disaster that is man-made, moving slowly in marvelous springtime weather. The people of Louisiana are familiar with the drainage of the nation, because the vast majority of the water in the United States flows past our doorsteps.

The problem this morning is the Morganza Spillway, one of the secondary structures that comprises the structures around Old River. Mother Nature wants to move the main channel of the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya channel, moving the whole river to the west and shortening the trip to the Gulf of Mexico. The Corps doesn't want that to happen, for lots of reasons, and they've erected structures at Old River to keep that from happening. Both the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya are very important to Louisiana and have a huge economic impact. If the Mississippi moved over into the Atchafalaya basin, the people of Louisiana would have huge adjustments to make

When they open the Morganza to relieve the pressure on the main levee system, they're dooming whole communities. Small villages and town that are in the way of the inundation. In effect, they're trading one town for another. All the people in the Atchafalaya basin have been told to get ready for an historic flood. It's a damned if they do, damned if they don't situation. The Corps of Engineers is willing to trade Butte LaRose, LA for Baton Rouge, LA.

There is a great discussion of the Old River Control Structures at this link. Go read and see the whole problem, set down on one webpage. Added to the wish-list of Mother Nature, we've got the problems associated with the levee systems and barge traffic. If a barge happens to get loose from it's moorings and accidentally hit the top of an already stressed levee, then the whole structure might come tumbling down.

This is an historic flood. Any time that the Morganza opens is historic. The people of the Atchafalaya basin are resilient, strong, and self-sufficient. They all know that one day the main flow of the Mississippi will come through their communities and that event will require all the resilience they can muster. The question is whether the Corps can put the Mississippi back in it's channel once the flood is over. So far, they've been successful in doing so, but Mother Nature wins every time. She's got millenia to undo what man has done and in the end, she'll have her way. One of these days, the main flow of that river will drain through Morgan City, LA. That day might be tomorrow.

1 comment:

Rivrdog said...

When we last had a major flood on the Columbia, our big river out here, all barge traffic was banned until the water receded several feet from it's crest, which was only inches below the levee tops in places.