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16 May 2011


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Sean Paul Kelley

I've suggested John McPhee's masterful essay on the Mississippi River called, "Atchafalaya" to everyone I know.


How many quadrillions have been pissed down the Mississippi by the Corps of Engineers trying to fool Mother Nature?
Beware of engineers with no adult supervision.

John Minnerath

The river always wins.
Only fools and hucksters will tell you it's under control.


Ahhh, at last an SST topic that I happen to know something about...

How many quadrillions have been pissed down the Mississippi by the Corps of Engineers trying to fool Mother Nature?
Beware of engineers with no adult supervision.

Said math is only off by about five orders of magnitude.

The total lifetime cost of the Mississippi's flood-control systems is measured in tens of billions, not quadrillions. And given that the economic loss of turning New Orleans into a silted sandbar on the edge of an oxbow lake would likely be measured in trillions, it's been one heck of a good investment.

Anyone who drives a car, or uses products made of plastic, or heats with natural gas, depends on the Port of New Orleans, because those are some of the products that depend upon the unique capabilities of the industrial enterprise situated within New Orleans and the cities that surround it.

Now... could the Corps have made better decisions over the last century? Well, certainly. The emphasis on levees has proven to be short-sighted, and alternative measures now in use (such as opening the Morganza spillway for the first time in decades) are a lot more cost-effective ways to fight floods than piling up levees until they resemble the long form of the Tower of Babel.

But when this flood-control project started, most folks didn't even understand soil erosion, much less the mechanisms of soil deposition that have silted in the levees and made New Orleans a nearly-below-sea-level accident waiting to happen. But for anyone who thinks that flood control for Louisiana is expensive, try doing the math on what no flood control costs.

Folks who think that the Corps' efforts in protecting New Orleans are a waste of resources need to ask themselves if they'd like to see our nation's supply of oil and natural gas disrupted indefinitely. The State of Louisiana is an energy hub for this nation, and as New Orleans goes, so does the U.S.


I don't have much on the 1927 flood, but during the 1937 flood my mother's family was living in the Arkansas delta in Newport Arkansas. My grandmother caught dysentary and died that year.

mike s

If we're looking back at the history of the 1927 flood, John Berry's book tells it all: history, sociology, hydrology, and more. Truly a tour de force




... Corps of Engineers trying to fool Mother Nature?
John Minnerath,
The river always wins.
Not always
The Japanese mayor who was laughed at for building a huge sea wall – until his village was left almost untouched by tsunami...
There is a point to the civil engineering that the Corps of Engineers engages in. That's worth keeping in mind also. A prime example of such engineering is the Netherland's Delta Works.

Besides, fascinating movie. It reminds me of my military service where we did flood relief on the Rhine (in a far less disastrous flood).

William R. Cumming

WOW terrific film from archives and thanks Maureen!

William R. Cumming

Cieran! WPA dollars and workforce will never be repeated in US history so if the levee system fails now and the spillway dumpage bye bye to a misbegotten past. And don't worry about NOLA the next Cat 5 Hurricane will end its concerns.

Too bad because I did like to visit.


The Japanese mayor reminded me of a leader from times of old.


Too bad most of it's all lost in myth now, how 'em ol' dudes in that era contained the waters.

John Minnerath

You can't really compare a sea wall built on a rocky coast to protect a town or series of towns from a single source threat, a huge wave coming in from the sea.
Or even the relatively large system in the Netherlands to keep the ocean at bay, which by the way needs constant improvements and enlargements to continue working; to the Mississippi flood control system.
It's a continent sized project that's supposed to keep one of the largest river systems in the world neatly in place.
So the industrial complexes and associated population centers built right on it's banks and the massive amount of commercial river traffic can merrily go their way.
The dams, levees, spill ways, channelization all have limited life spans. Changing the dynamics of the river causes increased sedimentation. The river beds especially, rise and can't be flushed.
The water levels continue to rise higher and higher above the surrounding low lands.
It's reached the point where no matter how well intentioned the engineering, the threat gets worse with every high water year.
A levee failure or a failure at one of the major spill way gate structures will be disastrous.
And there have been failures.

William R. Cumming

Except for the energy business a remarkably few manufacturing business' in the USA are functionally dependent on location in a flood plain. Times are a changing!

ex-PFC Chuck

I second Mike S's motion regarding John Barry's Rising Tide. It's a great read. Barry also wrote The Great Influenza about the 1918 flu pandemic. Also superb.

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