Monday, May 16, 2011

Mississippi River Rising: Flood of the Century

Photo by Dave Martin/AP

From Denny: This weekend I traveled downtown in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take a look for myself at the above flood stage Mississippi River in my home town proverbial back yard. Can I tell you it was a regular "shock and awe" moment?

Just imagine for a moment a herd of elephants gone rogue and running fast and furious down hill. They are a herd packed tight and fanning out three miles wide. The Old Man River looked like those elephants were just under the water, the top of their heads barely seen in the rough choppy water.  The surface of the water looked like a 60 mile an hour wind was pushing it yet the reality was there was barely a slight breeze.

I live a good 20 miles out from the River yet when I witnessed the power of this fierce water even I was wondering if it was time to leave town for good.  The River has never behaved like this in my life time.  But think about it.  We have a 10,000 year ice age ending with the melting off of both polar ice caps.  The water has to go somewhere.

 The glacial waters evaporate and then return down as massive rains and flooding.  The glacial waters evaporate in cold weather and return as massive snowfalls.  Then Spring arrives as the Earth warms:  yes,  massive flooding as the snow melts into torrential waters.  Get the picture?  The Mississippi River is carving out a new channel and trying to change course.  How long can any levees hold?

To their credit, the local officials were preemptive.  They banned all cars off the levee roads that are on top of the levees.  They banned all pedestrians from standing, walking or gawking on the levees even on the sidewalks, the train tracks, the grass medians of the levees.

As I walked up the hill to get a view of the massive River running by I could see how it was about to top the levee, within a few feet.  It was already well beyond flood stage but within four feet of splashing over the levee.

Baton Rouge is the fifth largest port in America.  Banned traffic on the Mississippi River were all the barges that ferry chemical products and crude oil and agricultural products.  Officials did not want any boat traffic to place pressure on the earthen levees.  Lucky us in Louisiana lately.  We have had extremely dry weather, downright drought conditions.  As a result the levees are holding nicely and absorbing water easily so far.

The Corps of Engineers originally thought they would require 50 percent of the flood gates of the Morganza Spillway to be opened just above Baton Rouge, ending up flooding a lesser populated area.  At the moment they have opened up to 25 percent, hoping it's all they will require.  Instead of 25 feet of flooding there is about 15 feet.  Considering most homes in Louisiana are only one story, most ceilings are only eight feet, some up to 12 feet, it's not much consolation.

Here is what the USDA is promising farmers impacted by this intentional flooding.  They are eligible for crop insurance payments in accordance with their crop insurance policies.  Farmers who are unable to plant because of the flooding will be be eligible for prevented planting payments in accordance with their policies.

How many acres of crops are affected in the Morganza Spillway, Atchafalaya Basin and the fore bay area between the spillway gates and the River?  Try over 18,000 acres will be lost to the flooding.

“We wanted to make sure our farmers got the same deal as the Missouri farmers who lost their crops when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers artificially breached the levee to save lives,” said Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain.

In this local news video you can see a police car riding on top of a levee and see how high is the water now.  Also, it shows a barge that flipped over because the water was moving so fast.

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