Archive for the 'NWNL–Mississippi R. Basin' Category

A Nameless Louisiana Flood: Tragedy and Case Study

August 22, 2016

By Alison M. Jones

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No Water No Life’s thoughts are with all who’ve lost so much in Louisiana, particularly in eastern Baton Rouge. In our 5 watershed expeditions in the Lower Mississippi River Basin, we have learned much about flooding. This essay analyzes the history, causes and devastating effects of high-water events in Louisiana, and all floodplain areas. We believe the solutions involve us all.

FLOODPLAINS  Approximately 1/6th of Louisiana’s acreage is bayous, lakes, swamps and rivers. Southern Louisiana is a floodplain. As one sign says, “It’s called a floodplain because it’s plain that it floods.” It is perfect habitat for turtles, waterfowl and bald cypress trees.

Periodically, a rain-swollen Mississippi River or hurricanes bring floods. This month’s catastrophe was due to an “inland, sheared tropical depression.” Those most impacted  are not turtles, waterfowl or swamp cypress. They are humans.

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A RIVER TOWN  Baton Rouge, the first bluff north of the Mississippi River Delta, was settled circa 1,200-6,000 BC.  The Native American Mississippian  hunter-gatherers used the river and this flood-safe bluff to trade throughout the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. Europeans followed and established Baton Rouge in 1699. Since then, families, communities and industries on and around the bluff have both thrived and suffered because of water.

The Mississippi River has driven Baton Rouge’s economy since its busy steamboat days. River transport made Baton Rouge a major U.S. industrial and petro-chemical center. The Port of Greater Baton Rouge is the 10th largest port in shipped tonnage. Now this port is handling the new Panamax ships to carry even greater amounts of grain, crude oil, cars and containers.

But with these benefits of the river – and the rains that feed it – come floods. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected 630,000 people. Herbert Hoover called it the “greatest peacetime calamity” in U.S. history. More devastating floods occurred in 1973, 1983 and 2011. The May 1995 Louisiana Flood dumped up to 20” of rain, causing over $3.1 million in damages. Each time, personal and economic damage has affected Louisiana and the U.S.

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SOGGY FOUNDATIONS and POOR PLANNING   For centuries, floods have swept away buildings, businesses, crops, and human lives. Whether a columned plantation or colorful trailer, the loss of a home entails the loss of investments, lifestyles and irreplaceable intangibles from family photos and holiday décor to BBQ patio moments.

Some say that everyone lives in a flood zone. Perhaps. But certainly flooding impacts are spreading wider. TV commentators of this 2016 Louisiana flood simply say the water has nowhere to go. Why?  New land development has created greater floods since construction has diverted natural runoff paths. As economies and populations grew, housing booms focused more on needs than risks. Developers covered wetlands and built on flood plains. Thus, urban and suburban development extended flooding beyond designated zones on FEMA maps.

Could that have been stopped? In the 1990’s and 2000’s Baton Rouge became one of the fastest-growing cities in the South. From 2000 to 2010 Baton Rouge’s population grew by about 33%. Ironically, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina flood refugees from New Orleans fled north, further causing Baton Rouge’s population to surge.

In hindsight, zoning regulations should have been stricter forty or fifty years ago. Wetlands should have been protected. Sprawl should have been addressed and discouraged.  These measures can still be instituted; and rebuilding on soggy ground can still be regulated.

FACING THE WEATHER  How can southern Louisiana and other low-lying regions mitigate, if not protect, impacts of future floods? Engineers, government, low-lying communities and all of us must face predictions of continued record-breaking rainfalls and increasingly high moisture levels in our atmosphere. Such extreme weather events used to be rare, often over 500 years apart. But since last May, eight similar, flood-producing heavy rainstorms have occurred in the U.S., according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus. If indeed this is a “classic signal of climate change, as claimed by Climate Nexus, we must implement immediate remedies.

PREVENTION  Possible solutions are big and small in scope. They can come from top-down and bottom-up efforts. We hear on TV that homes should be rebuilt on higher foundations. The reality is they should be rebuilt elsewhere. That’s the big solution: a complex and expensive remedy needing brave leadership and community commitment. It has been done. After severe floods in 2007 and 2008, Gays Mills, Wisconsin, is now moving its residences and commerce uphill from the Kickapoo River Floodplain. But Gays Mills is a much smaller community than eastern Baton Rouge, and it has taken almost a decade to accomplish and fund.

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MITIGATION  Louisiana and other floodplains can take steps smaller than relocation that will at least mitigate flooding effects. Small acts of sustainability really can lessen the impacts of flooding.

–Roads and parking areas can have porous surfaces, allowing water to seep through.

–Zoning can limit impermeable surfaces for renovated and new development.

–More trees can be planted so their deep roots can absorb excess waters.

–Rain gardens, bio-swales and other green elements can be implemented in residential, commercial, industrial and institutional settings to help absorb and divert run-off.

–Artificial wetlands can be built and existing wetlands saved so nature can again fulfill its role of storing floodwaters.

–Flood maps can be updated for today’s extreme weather.

These mitigations apply all across the country beyond already known flood regions! While global warming may seem like a slow climb up an endless ladder, its effects periodically pull that ladder right out from under us. Some of those moments have names like Katrina, Sandy and Irene. Some events are nameless but just as devastating, as Louisiana now knows.

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FOSSIL FUELS AND FLOODS   Beyond community-based mitigation, there is one major remedy that involves us all. Industrial emissions from across the globe – and even from Baton Rouge plants on the Mississippi River – contribute to climate disruption and the intensification of storms such as Louisiana’s 32-inch downpour this month. Ironically, Louisiana is a state known for its oil and gas industries – and for its floods. Fossil fuels and floods are co-joined in Louisiana, creating a cause-and-effect cycle.

Beyond Louisiana though, our national dependence on fossil fuels makes all of us partly responsible for the losses in Baton Rouge’s flood this summer. Our heavy use of cars and often-excessive consumption contribute to carbon emissions that indiscriminately hurt us all. We can cut back to essentials! Also you can join NWNL in following and sharing news of clean-energy technologies, including “Bladeless Wind Turbines” and solar highways producing crystal-powered energy.

OUR FUTURE   Today, we can all help Louisiana residents with gifts to Red Cross or LEAN – Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a local Baton Rouge organization NWNL has worked with.

Just as importantly, both today and tomorrow, we can all proactively support new, sustainable energy resources.  This will improve the future of existing flood-prone communities from Baton Rouge to Houston; from St Louis to Miami; West Virginia to South Carolina and worldwide.

By supporting measures to stop building in floodplains and efforts to lessen weather-related disasters, we say to Baton Rouge residents that we are one with them – and their children.

 

 

2016 Flooding in Vicksburg and a NWNL 2014 Interview with US Army Corps of Engineers

January 10, 2016

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THIS WEEK’s RECORD-BREAKING MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD

This winter’s costly Mississippi River Flood is now predicted to crest at Vicksburg on Friday Jan 15 at approximately 52 feet – 9 feet above the USGS official flood level.  The home of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg has known great changes in its river hydrology.  In 1876, the Mississippi took a dramatic shortcut across DeSoto Point, per this map illustration No Water no Life photographed on its 2014 Lower Mississippi River expedition.  Let’s hope there is no damage this winter during this current, historic flood.  And let’s hope there are no further rains between now and the time the crest reaches New Orleans.

FLOOD HISTORY of VICKSBURG (since the Civil War)

In 1876:  The Mississippi River course changed and shifted west, leaving Vicksburg without any riverfront.  Thus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River to the old riverbed.  This forced the creation of what is now the Yazoo Diversion Canal, where today’s modern Vicksburg port is located.

Flood of 1927:  The Upper Mississippi and Ohio Valleys experienced well-above-average rainfall in the fall of 1926.  The rain kept coming.  By January 1927 nearly all of the Mississippi River and its tributaries were above flood stage.  In April 1927, the levees began to fail causing massive areas to flood.  In all the Mississippi River breached the levee in 145 places, flooding 27,000 square miles.  Hundreds of thousands of people were homeless and were unable to return to their property until the waters receded, nearly 8 months after the rains began.

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The 1927 flood inundated 27,000 square miles along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River, then populated by more than 900,000 people.  For months in spring and summer of 1927, water covered the lower Mississippi River floodplain and tributaries.  It turned nearly all the cotton fields into a lake of tens of thousands of square miles.

Hundreds of thousands of people were impacted by floods that sent torrents of dirty water into their towns and homes, especially in African American communities.  Many Vicksburg families left for northern cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit.  This urban migration drastically reduced the labor class and desperate landowners created forced-work camps to keep their farms going.

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The US Government determined that such a disaster should never be repeated.  The US Army Corps of Engineers [henceforth, USACE] since has put in place plans, designs and infrastructure to mitigate such disasters.

TALKING WITH THE USACE IN VICKSBURG, SEPT. 2014

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Per a No Water No Life USACE interview with Kent Parrish, Noah Vroman and Tommy Hengst, there seems to be reason to be optimistic this month as floodwaters again race and rage through the Lower Mississippi Valley.  Certainly greater riverside development means protection is even more critical, and thankfully it comes at a time when the USACE understands the need for more coordination with water interests.

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As the strength and frequency of storms has increased, the terminology of the Corps has been changed to decrease the level of expectations.  The USACE claim of providing “Flood protection” has now been reduced to insuring “Flood Risk Reduction.”  As well, there are new rules for new types of floods, such as this historically high and unusual winter flood.

The USACE states its approach to regional dam and levee safety has become more rigorous as aged infrastructure poses large maintenance challenges.  Both technological and visual inspections are now used to determine needed strengthening.

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Our two-hour interview yielded journal notations citing impressive rigor by the USACE to adapt to changing demands in the face of changing weather events.  Those interviewed also expressed the determination by the USACE to never become slipshod in its maintenance responsibility.

The USACE of Engineers will certainly be busy this month and for a while to come, assessing their preparations for extreme events and the impacts of such unprecedented pressure on their infrastructure from St Louis, past Cairo where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi, and down to Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

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Blog by Alison M. Jones, Director of NWNL

[Source of images and information:  The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretive Site, Vicksburg]

 

4th of July ASSOCIATIONS: Independence–Missouri–Mississippi River–Mark Twain

July 3, 2015
USA:  Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard, Oak Bluffs, Methodist Campground Victorian architecture, upstairs balcony with flag

USA: Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard

Anticipating the Fourth of July U.S. holiday, we think of “independence,” which makes me think of Independence, Missouri. Now a suburb of Kansas City, this city was originally the point of departure of our California, Oregon and Santa Fe Trails.

At the crossroads of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Independence was the hometown of our President Harry S. Truman; and like Truman, Missouri is pretty much the center of the continental US and. So it truly is an American heartland and gatherer of rivers.

Illinois: Cairo, Fort Defiance, junction of Ohio (L) and Mississippi Rivers

Illinois: Cairo, Fort Defiance, junction of Ohio (L) and Mississippi Rivers

This Great Rivers State has been home to the pre-Columbian Mississippian Culture, now known only by their UNESCO World Heritage Site mounds (c 700-1400 A.D.) that kept them the flood plains of the Mississippi River that fertilized the crops at Cahokia. As a St. Louis road sign explains “ It’s called a floodplain because it’s plain that it floods.”

USA: Illinois, Mississippi River Basin, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in wetlands

USA: Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in wetlands

The first permanent “European” settlement was by Creole fur traders who settled right on the banks of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis in Ste. Genevieve in the mid-1730’s. After the fur trade, its residents turned keeping livestock in its communal “Grand Champ” (Big Field) to growing wheat, corn and tobacco.

MO: Ste Genevieve Co., Route 32, farm machinery in field.

MO: Ste Genevieve Co., Route 32, farm machinery in field.

This charming town was first moved back from its original waterfront location following the Great Flood of 1785. Even so, Ste. Genevieve still faces flood threats that explain its high concrete levees and gates pic built after the Great Flood of 1993 that turned this region into an interior ocean.

Missouri: Ste Genevieve, flooded streets, during Mississippi River flood of 1993.

Missouri: Ste Genevieve, Mississippi River flood of 1993.

Once my mind focuses on Missouri River’s history, it quickly jumps to Mark Twain, who wrote endlessly about the flow and the cultures along the Mississippi River. Thus, in honor of July 4 and Missouri and Mark Twain, here are some favorite quotes – both fun and serious – from that region’s great bard.

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book… which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Life on the Mississippi, 1874

It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing.
 Life on the Mississippi, 1874

USA: Missouri, Upper Mississippi River Basin, Hannibal,

The man they called Ed said the muddy Mississippi water was wholesomer to drink than the clear water of the Ohio; he said if you let a pint of this yaller Mississippi water settle, you would have about a half to three- quarters of an inch of mud in the bottom, according to the stage of the river, and then it warn’t no better than Ohio water – what you wanted to do was to keep it stirred up – and when the river was low, keep mud on hand to put in and thicken the water up the way it ought to be. Life on the Mississippi, 1874

“The military engineers of the Commission have taken upon their shoulders the job of making the Mississippi over again – a job transcended in size by only the original job of creating it.”   Life on the Mississippi, 1874

 “One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver – not aloud but to himself – that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, “go here,” or ‘Go there,” and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at. But a discreet man will not put these things into spoken words; for the West Point engineers have not their superiors anywhere; they know all that can be known of their abstruse science; and so, since they conceive that they can fetter and handcuff that river and boss him, it is but wisdom for the unscientific man to keep still, lie low, and wait till they do it.” Life on the Mississippi, 1874

The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…. Eruption

USA-Minnesota, Upper Mississippi River Basin, Itasca State Park (Headwaters of the Mississippi River), tree near rocks where water from Lake Itasca forms beginning of Mississippi River, 1475' elevation, beginning of 2552-mi trip to Gulf

In response to the previous quote, the following is the grand finale of this fireworks of Mark Twain quotes. If all of us – in the U. S. and everywhere on this planet – were to be inspired by his call to explore, dream and discover, I think we could reduce climate change, pollution, and other threats to our fresh water resources.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Enjoy the Fireworks! Alison Jones, Director NWNL

A Voice from the Mississippi River Delta

January 9, 2015

“No fishing. No gardening. No hunting. No land. No fresh water.” Jamie Dardar, in his 
Creole-Indian drawl, noted that below New Orleans, the Mississippi River’s delta is now
 losing one football field of land every hour. Maps are outdated with each wave.

In Jamie’s youth, gardens on Isle de Jean Charles spilled over with tomatoes, okra and
 vegetables galore. Fruit trees filled farmers’ bushel baskets. Wildlife, fish, crabs, shrimp 
and oysters provided the fare for feasts, sustenance and livelihoods.

As a young man Jamie left this paradise to drive 18-wheelers cross-country. But he
 quickly returned to the island’s bounty. Today he’s watching the sea-level rise and intense
 storms reduce his island to nothing. Land subsides as oil and gas extraction leave empty 
cavities. Abandoned drilling channels erode its shores. Oil spills and rusting rigs ruin local 
fisheries. Soil is too saline for crops or trees. From Minnesota on down,
 polluted waters pass dams and levees that retain floodplain sediment that could otherwise
 restore this delta.

The island’s residents now call their home “The Bathtub.” Jamie expects it will be under water 
in two years. He has re-applied to drive 18-wheelers along the Interstates.

“All I know is shrimping and changing gears.”

by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director

USA:  Louisiana, Venice, Lower Mississippi River Basin, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Pointe aux Chenes, shrimp fisherman's overalls hanging to dry

Mississippi River Delta, shrimp fisherman’s overalls hanging to dry

Serpentine Curves and Manufactured Angles of the Mississippi

December 17, 2014

Aerial photos of the Atchafalaya Basin.

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area,

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, Wax Lake Outlet area

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USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area, Wax Lake Outlet area

USA:  Louisiana, Aerial photo of Atchafalaya Basin area,

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Offshore oil spills contaminate fresh water, too

November 12, 2014

The NWNL website has added a video trailer for “The Great Invisible”, a new documentary on Louisiana Coast damages caused by oil and gas extraction. NWNL research and our Lower Mississippi River Delta expedition in Sept 2014 have focused on this subject, and we highly recommend this documentary of personal stories that highlight the nexus of Mississippi Delta ecosystem functions and the oil and gas industry. Below is expanded commentary on this issue.

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

“The Great Invisible”, a new documentary by filmmaker Margaret Brown reviewed recently by the New York Times, explores the aftermath of the world’s largest oil spill. The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, operated by BP, in April of 2010 resulted in the discharge of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days, contaminating hundreds of miles of beaches. Extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the fishing and tourism industries resulted not only from the oil but also from adverse effects of the cleanup activities. Chemicals from the oil and the dispersant used during cleanup also led to a public health crisis along the Gulf Coast.

The use of offshore oil wells goes back to the 1890s. The first submerged oil wells in salt water were drilled in the Santa Barbara Channel around 1896. After the first federal offshore lease sale was held in 1954 for oil production rights off the coast of Louisiana, the Gulf Coast became the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry. However, the safety of offshore drilling came into question with the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969. It was the largest oil spill in United States waters at the time, with consequences similar to those in the Gulf four decades later. It was one of the most dramatic and visible events that led to the the regulatory and legislative framework of the environmental movement.

Spills in the ocean wash ashore and affect the quality of nutrient rich river estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and support spawning grounds and nurseries of our greatest fisheries. In the BP spill, the combination of oil, water, dispersant, weathering and natural organic matter has created an emulsion thicker than peanut butter.

An oil industry executive claims “Regulations block innovation, so government needs to get out of the way of business,” yet to date BP has cleaned up less than 1/3 of the spilled oil, according to the film.

Meanwhile, BP has been in Federal District Court in New Orleans along with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, the contractor responsible for an unstable cement slurry used in the well. In September BP was found to be the primary culprit and that it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” A trial scheduled to begin in January will determine penalties under the Clean Water Act.

Forty-five years after the Santa Barbara oil spill and four years after the Deepwater Horizon, Congress has yet to pass any safety legislation for the petroleum industry.

What will it take to prevent such an accident happening again? More regulation? A change in oil industry culture? Whatever it takes, we hope that “The Great Invisible” will help that conversation along.

— RW

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

Shrimpin’ in Louisiana – a waning tradition?

October 29, 2014

Shrimp boats are a common sight, but shrimpers and oystermen in the Mississippi River Delta are struggling with decreased fisheries due to oil spills, and changes in water salinity and temperatures.

USA:  Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

USA: Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

Related reading: Louisiana oyster and shrimp industries in serious decline after BP oil spill

 

Massive cleanup of coal ash spill continues

October 15, 2014

Exactly one year ago today, NWNL documented the clean up of the Nation’s largest coal fly ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant, TN.  In 2008, over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry leaked into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, part of the Mississippi River basin. The recovery will continue into 2015.

Did you know you can take a tour of the site?

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

The Arkansas Delta

September 28, 2014
Waves on the Mississippi

Waves on the Mississippi

Birds in trees in river

Birds in trees in river

The Mississippi, Arkansas and White Rivers irrigate the flat, fertile lands of the Arkansas Delta, as do the many tributaries, bayous and irrigation ditches. Either muddy water or sandy, dry soil is underfoot – nothing in between. But it is the mix of the two that yields the state’s renowned crops of cotton, soy, corn, wheat and rice that is barged throughout the nation – and the world, thanks to the navigation channels of the Mississippi and its tributaries.

Throughout the month of September NWNL will be visiting the Lower Mississippi River Basin and tributaries with a focus on urban and rural resiliency to climate change. Read more about this Lower Mississippi expedition and see more NWNL photos from the Louisiana segment of this expedition depicting Isle de Jean Charles and Parish of St. John the Baptist.

NWNL will be posting more photos from this expedition in the coming weeks on nowater-nolife.org.

Fishing on the Arkansas River

Fishing on the Arkansas River

Cotton field

Cotton field

Brain-eating amoeba in Louisiana’s water

September 26, 2014
Parish of St. John the Baptist, Louisiana

Parish of St. John the Baptist

Naegleria fowleri  (also known as the “brain-eating amoeba”) is a free-living, thermophilic excavate form of protist typically found in warm bodies of fresh water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It is also found in soil, near warm-water discharges of industrial plants, and in poorly chlorinated, or unchlorinated swimming pools….

N. fowleri can invade and attack the human nervous system and brain, causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Although this occurs rarely, such an infection nearly always results in the death of the victim.  The case fatality rate is greater than 95%. [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naegleria_fowleri]

This parish is like so many other towns we all live in…  Except that in southern Louisiana in September the weather is wicked hot and humid – and there is lots of industry responsible for creating fence-line communities.

New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, "Petro-Chemical Alley"

New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, “Petro-Chemical Alley”

(“Fence-line” refers to communities with refineries, gas compression stations and other kinds of industrial operations. These plants put up high wire mesh fences to keep people out of their premises, but those fences don’t stop toxins from entering the air and water of those communities. The term is used by agencies trying to address the resulting health issues occurring due to such toxins.)

New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, "Petro-Chemical Alley"

New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, “Petro-Chemical Alley”

The parish government has implemented “chlorine burns” to disinfect the Lions system, which serves over 12,000 people. The School Board has declared an emergency, taking school water fountains offline and putting water coolers in place. The deadly amoeba infiltrates via water vapor in the nose, and spreads to the brain causing severe damage. Residents are getting home water tests and taking precautions when swimming or bathing. Town meetings have drawn large crowds to discuss what can be done in their communities.

Parish of St John the Baptist school sign "Better Schools, Better Futures"

St John the Baptist Parish school sign “Better Schools. Better Futures.”

Related news : http://abcnews.go.com/Health/brain-eating-amoeba-found-louisiana-water-supply/story?id=25160247

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/09/brain-eating_amoeba_in_st_john_1.html

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

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