May 15, 2011
Water: Morganza Spillway Opened for First Time Since 1973
Posted by Evelyn Mervine
Saturday afternoon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened part of the Morganza spillway— a flood control structure in Louisiana along the Mississippi River– for the first time since 1973 (and for the just the second time since the spillway was constructed in the 1950s). The spillway was opened yesterday to help mitigate severe flooding in the Mississippi River system. Just one floodgate was opened. As needed, additional floodgates of the spillway will be opened. The opening of the spillway diverts floodwaters from the cities of Baton Rogue and New Orleans. Hopefully, the opening of the spillway will spare those two cities from severe flooding. However, the opening of the spillway means that much of low-lying, rural, south-central Louisiana will be flooded. Large parts of Louisiana have already been evacuated. The floodgates will need to remain open for weeks until the river levels drop.
The impact of the flooding on Louisiana is going to be extensive: crops drowned, homes destroyed, people displaced, communities thoroughly soaked. I imagine many communities will take years to dry out, rebuild, and recover, even if the floodwaters recede in a few weeks time.
I suppose Louisiana had no choice but to open the floodgate. The rain just kept falling. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can only work to minimize the damage caused by the flooding by strategically diverting the water to less-populated areas. The flooding along the Mississippi is a potent reminder for all of us of the immense power of rivers and of the hazards of living close to and trying to control a large river.
Here is an impressive video showing the opening of the single floodgate today:
Video taken from YouTube.
That's what happens when you canal a river up and build on its flood plain. The area is swampy for good reason.
Jackie: Absolutely. Building on floodplains has advantages (fertile soil, for instance), but you have to be prepared for the flooding. Also, naturally the Mississippi River changes course. We're trying to keep the river from changing course again, but eventually the river might win. Here's a neat Wired Science article on the Mississippi River from 2004 titled "Taming the Wild River": http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/11/65183?currentPage=1