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Flood Control, the Mississippi River, and Government
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jse



Joined: 17 Apr 1995
Posts: 1298
Location: Marin

PostPosted: Fri Jun 03, 2011 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In 1974/1975, I worked on a dredge up near Clarksdale Mississippi. This dredge was contracted out to the Army Corp of Engineers. During that fall and winter I watched as we and a few other dredges, cut channels straight through dry land, bypassing the natural horseshoes created by the wandering river, followed by contouring the sides of the river and finally laying down huge cement slabs down the sides of the river, effectively turning the river into a huge drainage ditch. Even then we could see what was coming: Effectively robbing the M.R. valley of nutrients, lowering the water table, accelerating the flow of water, pushing more and more water down towards New Orleans where each year the water crested higher than the year before, finally dumping the silt and nutrients off the end of the continental shelf, where it does absolutely no good. Although these books don't focus on the Army Corp of Engineers, these books discuss this shortsighted policy and its results: "Bayou Farewell" by Mike Tidwell, or "In Control of Nature" by John McPhee. I'm sure many other authors have explored this topic.

Steve
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mac



Joined: 07 Mar 1999
Posts: 5444

PostPosted: Fri Jun 03, 2011 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Steve--nice comment. I've read much of McPhee, including control of nature, and he is certainly the most articulate journalist about the follies of trying to control nature with our imperfect understanding. There are serious questions about the effectiveness of the Corps of Engineers; I know the two UC Berkeley professors who did the post-mortem on Katrina. What some don't know is that the storm at landfall was well below the design storm, yet the levees failed because of faulty construction. The flood walls on top of the levees were not properly keyed into the levees, weak soil and organic material was left in place, and hydrostatic pressure pushed the walls over. Many people died because of that engineering failure, and it is likely that corruption in the contracting and inspection process was involved.

Even with that said, I find this severe winter's floods sobering, and I suspect that a fair evaluation of the effectiveness of flood control would find that they were mostly pretty good investments. Lives and property in cities (mostly Democratic voting) were saved, but damage to agricultural areas (mostly Republican voting) was substantial. As difficult as I have found it working with the Corps of Engineers, they only do what Congress has asked them to do.

So my question remains, is this something that is appropriate for the Federal government to do, and if not, how do we change directions with so many economic decisions already made relying on these improvements?

By the way, thanks for not hijacking the topic to comment about burning cooking oil!
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jse



Joined: 17 Apr 1995
Posts: 1298
Location: Marin

PostPosted: Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article with graphic representation of what's going on in Louisiana:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/09/in-historic-flooding-on-m_n_873623.html

Steve
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swchandler



Joined: 08 Nov 1993
Posts: 5961

PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2011 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're right Steve, it was a great article that highlights what's been happening in Louisiana at the Mississippi River Delta for generations. Seems to me that a restoration program would be an excellent long term infrastructure project that would ultimately address the intrusion of gulf waters, restore critical environmental wetlands, and provide much needed jobs for the area. I would think that it would easily qualify as a important infrastructure investment along the lines that Obama mentioned more recently, and the needed funds could be gained through other program cuts in the budget.
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