After the great Mississippi River flood of 1927 congress told the US Army Corps of Engineers to make sure it didn’t happen again. The Corps has been trying for almost 90 years. The result? More flood for less rain.
This pithy assessment of the Corps work is from John McPhee’s acclaimed “Atchafalaya” written 27 years ago. It’s still true today because the Corps is still trying to fix the flooding problem by holding the rain instead of speeding its flow to the Gulf. (Mississippi is a holding pond.) Wrong strategy: Contain the River. How: build levees. Result: even more flood for less rain.
So why not adopt a Speed the Flow to the Gulf strategy? This logical question was asked back in 1927. But the Contain the River advocates prevailed. The Corps is a massive bureaucracy running a massive government program that’s not working. But hey, what’s new. Can a Speed the Flow strategy work? Yes. Mother Nature has already done most of the work. But there’s powerful opposition to change.
On December 29 the Baton Rouge Advocate reported that officials were conferring about opening Mississippi River spillways to minimize flooding in Louisiana. On the same day the Vicksburg Post reported that severe flooding would cause Mississippi’s deer season along the river to close almost a month early. Was flooding worse in Mississippi and did the season close early because the spillways weren’t already open to speed the flow? It looks like it.
More flood. Mississippi has had seven major floods in the last nine years. The 2011 flood crest was the highest ever recorded at Natchez and Vicksburg. Flooding is getting worse. It may be due more to the Corps’ containment strategy than Mother Nature.
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