Cycling Water

Mississippi River

Image by cm195902 via Flickr

As time puts distance between any event, people tend to lose interest. Particularly if the event did not affect them. In the instance of a natural disaster, the correlation seems to be decided by the factors of how big an area was impacted, how close to you it happened, and your relation to the people who were affected. For instance, a severe thunderstorm that blows down trees and destroys a single house has a long impact on those who live in the house, a lesser impact on those who live around the house, and normally not much impact on those who live across town that don’t know the affected individuals. The area impacted was small, so it was of no consequence on a statewide level, unless it was the governor, or your mother.

While those far enough removed by geography or relations begin to forget, a bigger draw off your attention is the news media moving on to its next biggest story. The storms of 27 Apr 2011 are no exception. With the Royal Wedding being about as popular as soccer in America as well as over, the search was on for the next big thing, and attention is falling on the plight of te Mississippi River.

The 3rd largest watershed in the world has had more water then it normally handles. In a slow-moving drama, rivers and creeks have been swelling and straining both the natural and the man-made borders. A few weeks back, the Corps of Engineers decided to blow a levee up and flood farmland in order to save the town of Cairo, Illinois. While it is an easy choice, lives over land, there were a good number of people who took issue, like the flooded landowners. And I don’t say this to mean they don’t have a point or that it should minimize their loss. It is a devastating event for them, but it was the needs of the many over the needs of the few. Also, flooding farmland, while it comes at the cost of the planted crops, tends to make the land better for planting crops later. Now the media have moved downstream and the big reports are that the Corps of Engineers are planning to open some floodgates and send water from the Mississippi over farmland and down to the Atchafalaya River.

Now if I remember my lessons from geography, history and geology, rivers are fluid things. They tend to change their course from time to time. From geography I learned that they are not the best thing to use as a border, because when it changes its course there are questions about where the border is/was. In history I learned that Grant tried unsuccessfully to get the Corps of Engineers to reroute the Mississippi to cut the Gibraltar of the Confederacy off from the river. Then, some 60 years later the river moved itself, making the Vicksburg National Military Park not on the main channel of the river. From geology I learned that several decades back the Corps fought another battle, and this time won against the Muddy Mississippi.

The Mississippi was headed towards the Atchafalaya River Basin. This would have cut off the Port of New Orleans, a place with not only a significant history, but also a huge point of departure and arrival. This shift of the river would be costly, so instead the Corps kept it flowing in its banks. So now the Mississippi flows mostly in its banks and the Atchafalaya is a lengthy set of bridges between New Orleans and Lake Charles. The beauty of the irony here is that the Corps kept the water from flowing to the Atchafalaya to save New Orleans by building levees and floodways. Now, since the Corps (and everyone else) has lost confidence in the levees and floodways the Corps built around New Orleans, the Corps is using their levees and floodways to send water to the Atchafalaya to save New Orleans.

Water has come full circle, as well as gained the media spotlight.

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