Mississippi Flood Control Is Working


Churchville, VA–The anguish in the news media over the opening of the spillways along the Mississippi is a gorgeous example of the journalists’ determination to find sorrow and danger at every turn in our lives. The AP lamented earlier this week that “Over the next few days, water spewing through a Mississippi River floodgate will crawl through the swamps of Louisiana’s Cajun country, chasing people and animals to higher ground while leaving much of the [farm] land under 10 to 20 feet of brown muck.”

Now, the floodgates have been opened. Thousands of acres of crops most likely have been lost for this year. Wildlife has had to swim or run. But, what did the AP think happened almost every spring in Cajun country before the levees and spillways were built in the 1920s? Now it hadn’t happened for 40 years. That sounds like success.

Only in paragraph seven of the AP story do we learn that not opening the spillways could have flooded New Orleans with more water than drowned it during Hurricane Katrina! And the water would probably have been flowing much faster. One victim of the 2005 flooding said then that his mother’s brick house had “disintegrated” when the water hit it. What’s the next threat level up from “disintegration”?

The federal bill for Katrina now stands at $62 billion and counting, but that wasn’t the fault of the spillways. The spillways weren’t designed to protect New Orleans from a downriver hurricane once every 50 or 100 years. The spillways and the levees were built to deal with the mighty Mississippi, which floods dangerously more years than not.

And they are working!

The spillways were built after the record Mississippi flooding of 1927. That flood killed thousands of people and destroyed a massive number of homes and businesses. In Greenville, Mississippi, more than 13,000 flood-displaced sharecroppers were stranded for weeks on a stretch of high-ground railway embankment; the rest of the railway had been washed away. The planters wouldn’t let the farmers be evacuated by boat for fear they would never come back.

In 1927, New Orleans was saved from a flood just about as bad as today’s might have been–by the city’s businessmen. They bought $2 million worth of dynamite and blew out the levee below the city. That took the pressure off the upstream levees that were threatening to wash out. Instead, all of St. Bernard parish was flooded. New Orleans had promised to compensate the people of St Bernard, but few ever saw any New Orleans cash.

To add just one further bit of perspective, it will now be about two years before the eco-activists start lamenting again about how much wildlife has been displaced by the levees and spillways that keep the Mississippi within its banks most years, and which protect thousands of square miles of high-yield farmland. They’ll propose again that the whole system be destroyed. How many animals would be displaced if the food grown on those farmed acres had to be grown on new farmland cleared somewhere else?

Of course if we could get higher yields somewhere else, then perhaps we could spare the rich river-bottom land protected by the levees. But the same eco-activists oppose the nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, and biotech seeds that produce the higher yields.

It’s almost as though the Green movement has a death wish–and wants to take the earth’s people and wildlife down with it. Ho hum, just another day in the perspective business.

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to [email protected] Visit our website at www. cgfi.org

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