Posts Tagged ‘flooding’

A Blind Eye to Flooding – No More Excuses

September 2, 2016

By Alison Jones, No Water No Life Director

NWNL sends our sympathies to those suffering from Hermine’s winds and rains. As this hurricane slashes its way north, we hope for the least amount of flood damage possible.

As 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and August’s Louisiana Floods showed, we have created a bad scenario along our waterways. Our approach to coastal development is probably as much to blame for flooding devastation as is the severe weather due to the warming of our atmosphere by climate change.

Ten days ago NWNL wrote a blog on the Louisiana flooding noting the critical need for green infrastructure in order to mitigate storm impacts. We also urged the adaptation of alternative energies to fossil fuels.

Andrew Revkin, renowned science and environmental journalist, retweeted our blog, saying:   “Super No Water No Life post on hazards with growth in a soggy state.”  Today Revkin’s  New York Times Dot Earth blog details how we’ve lost awareness of the reality and the raison d’etre of floodplains and wetlands.

Our coastlands and riverine corridors are meant to filter and absorb both floodwaters and their nutrients.  They are meant to be nutrient-rich ecosystems for flora and fauna, that in turn support human needs.   The water’s edge was never meant to be a platform for tipi’s, trailers, cottages or mansions.

Indigenous builders respected Nature’s rhythms and whims. Their homes were simply-built and often mobile. If destroyed, their ruin did not pollute land or water with masses of chemical or plastic debris. The French, who settled in Creole communities up and down the Lower Mississippi River 200 years ago, also paid attention to the realities of flooding rivers and deltas. They knew better than to rebuild time and time again in flood paths.

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Missouri: St Genevieve, the Creole Green Tree Tavern, surviving Mississippi River Flood of 1993.

This summer NWNL cruised New Jersey’s Sandy Hook inland waterway – the lovely Shrewsbury and Navasink Rivers. It was shocking to see that this spit of land, like so many, has been completely re-built since Sandy’s whiplash destruction.

Those of us on this NY/NJ Baykeeper cruise cringed to think what would happen when the lapping waters of August next jumped over relatively minimal breakwaters and seawalls. We are cringing again this weekend. If not this weekend, when?

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.

 

 

“They think we’re all gonna drown down here. But we ain’t going nowhere.” – Hushpuppy

September 9, 2014
Isle de Jean Charles

Isle de Jean Charles

NWNL is headed to the “Bathtub!” – The geographic inspiration for the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild.” As director, Benh Zeitlin put it, “This is the edge of the world.”

Isle de Jean Charles is a sliver of marshland, deep in the bayous of Louisiana – also ground zero for climate change in the US. It is home to Native Americans that live off the land and water, a place of extraordinary biodiversity and beauty, but the Isle de Jean Charles is rapidly disappearing. The environment, history and culture of this coastal region is truly fascinating – Read more about it here.

Keep your fingers crossed that Island Rd ain’t flooded!

I’ll leave you with some Hushpuppy wisdom….

“Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.”

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the entire universe will get busted.”

“I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”

Crabbing on the causeway

Crabbing on the causeway

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

National Climate Assessment is required reading for all

May 7, 2014

Today’s New York Times front page –

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods

NWNL has witnessed the effects of climate change over 8 years of expeditions to document watersheds in North America and Africa. From wading through flooded towns, running from hurricanes, interviewing farmers tackling long-term drought, trekking with pastoralists with thirsty cattle and many things in between. Click on images below for captions and links for related articles.

The interactive digital version of the new 840-page National Climate Assessment report is at www.globalchange.gov.  It’s complex, so NWNL recommends two articles that summarize the issues as outlined.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/climate-change-projected-worsen-across-u-s-federal-study-finds/

Seth Borenstein’s account emphasizes that the report’s value lies in that it is written in less scientific language than others and that it underlines how climate change is already affecting our pocketbooks in areas ranging from our health to our homes.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nowhere-run-climate-change-will-affect-every-region-u-s-n98396

An NBC News account delineates climate change impacts, region by region. Reading these reports today, NWNL has noted the current and expected climate disruptions in the Pacific NW region for its one month Snake River Basin expedition which starts tomorrow.  We are looking forward to hearing local stakeholders’ solutions for mitigation and resilience in the face of continued extreme climate events.

From the Mississippi’s 1993 Flood to Today

April 15, 2014

By Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life®
and Professional Photographer
As published by American Rivers in “The River Blog”-April 10, 2014

Newly planted corn in 2013 Flood

Newly planted corn in 2013 Flood

“But, what about the newly planted corn?
I’ve seen how the Big Muddy can flood a field.”

On a No Water No Life® expedition in the Mississippi Basin last year, I asked that of stewards, US Fish and Wildlife scientists and US Army Corps engineers.  Twenty years earlier I visited the middle Mississippi during the Flood of 1993.  Since then, the world, Mississippi flood management and I have changed.

Engineers used to say, “The equation for inundation is elevation,” as they raised their levees.  Now the USACE promotes “flood risk management” instead of “flood control” because every levee pushes the water onto someone else.  The USACE also promotes healthy ecosystems at its National Great Rivers Museum in St Louis.

Ste. Genevieve's Le Grand Champ levee

Ste. Genevieve’s Le Grand Champ levee

Even so, American Rivers lists the middle Mississippi as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers ® of 2014 because of a new old-school USACE “flood control” project..  As we all focus on upstream-downstream issues in the face of climate disruption, American Rivers is advocating for floodplain connection, not levees.  Perhaps the question isn’t what will happen to young corn in a flood year, but what will happen if we keep building levees?

Why do I, as a New Yorker, care about Missouri’s habitats and communities?  As I describe in the following story, my connection to the Mississippi began twenty years ago.

Driving through flooded backwaters in '93

Driving through flooded backwaters in ’93

“The Flood of 1993:  A Month in Missouri”

I didn’t care about the Midwest Flood of 1993. I knew all about floods.  For three December days, my Connecticut home had been under five feet of icy water.  Hollywood called it “The Perfect Storm.”  I flew to Missouri that steamy July to photograph iconic Midwestern scenes.

Pig farm near Ste. Genevieve

Pig farm near Ste. Genevieve

I visited Daniel Boone’s homestead, pig farms and craftsmen.  But after torrential thunderstorms at a dairy farm and seeing new-mown hay swept off low-lying fields, my adrenaline rose with the river.  Singing “I drove my Chevy to the levee,” I arrived in the Creole river town of Ste. Genevieve.  But the levee wasn’t dry.  Brown water threatened this week’s sandbagged walls, inches from the top; and it seeped out underneath.

This flood was different.  Many levees had been constructed since a 1973 flood, upsetting previous prediction models.  These added restraints just intensified the Mississippi’s fury.  Forecasts were for another week of rain.  As herons flew into the storm clouds, my mood of creative elation disappeared.

Great Blue Heron flying into storm clouds

Great Blue Heron flying into storm clouds

I saw the grit of people resisting nature, the invincibility of humor,
and the camaraderie of strangers fighting together.  Using sandbags and bulldozers, sweating residents and uniformed troops stayed ahead of the river: block by block, inch by inch.  Putting my cameras down, I joined in.
“I can’t be here and not sandbag,“ I wrote.

Sandbagged historic Ste. Genevieve MO

Sandbagged historic Ste. Genevieve MO

Flying home weeks later, I stared at the “inland sea” below.  While photographing levees and Levi’s, cheerleaders and retirees, and the grateful folks of Ste Genevieve, I’d become part of that community.  Using Bryce Courtenay’s words, we worked with “one heart, one plan, one determination.”  Whether it would happen again or not, that was the Spirit of 1993.

Ste. Genevieve intersection in '93 Flood

Ste. Genevieve intersection in ’93 Flood

My thoughts, April 2014:  The Mississippi rolls on, but we still need to better adapt to its swells and floods.  History should have taught us that.  American Rivers is trying to do that.  As Mark Twain predicted,  “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”

"The Mississippi will have its own way."

“The Mississippi will have its own way.”

View more photos of the Great Flood of 1993

Read Related Story:  Parallels: Mississippi Flood of 1993 and Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

Take Action: Tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to abandon the levee project and the Environmental Protection Agency to veto it if the Corps proceeds with this ill-conceived plan.

June – National Rivers Month

June 21, 2013
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Chinook Cove of the Columbia River | Ray Gardner.
Photos ©Alison M. Jones for NWNL.

In the spirit of Summer Solstice, NWNL offers below its interview with Ray Gardner, Chief of the Chinook Nation, honoring the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River and Mother Earth. We met Ray on the 2007 NWNL Columbia River Expedition in a Chinook cove off this salmon-filled river’s estuary.

Three weeks ago NWNL completed its Upper and Middle Mississippi River Basin Expedition from Lake Itasca MN to its St Louis confluence with the Missouri River. In 1993 I documented the highest floodwaters on the Mississippi – and now, 20 years later, I’ve witnessed its 5th highest floodwaters. For eons, floods have come and gone in nature’s plan: part of a healthy pulse that flushes riverbeds and nourishes the plains. But today we see floods as a threat to cities and crops.

In our June 2013 interview with Patrick McGinnis (former US Army Corps of Engineers, now Senior Advisor on Water Resources for The Horinko Group), we discussed the problems that stem from federalized flood control and federalized flood insurance, without which farmers and other folks would abandon the floodplains. Many agencies and organizations are working together now to address these complex issues, given the absence of a national water policy.

But while waiting for solutions to evolve, let’s each of us – and our children – follow Ray Gardener’s suggestion to protect our rivers by removing our trash. Join in American Rivers 2013 National Rivers Cleanup – wherever you live.

We all live in a watershed – what’s yours?

Alison Jones, NWNL Director and Photographer

These beer cases, cigar wrappings and snack-food bags seen in last month’s Missouri River floodwaters should NOT be there. We may all be prone to unhealthy habits now and then, but let’s not allow them to create unhealthy rivers!

These beer cases, cigar wrappings and snack-food bags seen in last month’s Missouri River floodwaters should NOT be there. We may all be prone to unhealthy habits now and then, but let’s not allow them to create unhealthy rivers!

SELECTIONS: NWNL Interview with Ray Gardner, Chair of the Chinook Nation

June 2007

NWNL: Thank you, Ray, for bringing us to this protected Columbia River cove, so imbued with the spirit of the Chinook Nation. Could you describe the historic ties Chinook Nation has had with the Columbia River.

RAY GARDNER: The best way to start with that is from our story of creation. We were created on the Columbia River. The Creator and Mother Earth gave us the honor to be a people that lived on this river. This river was a means of transportation. It was a means of communicating with other tribes up and down the river in our canoes. It provided us with the salmon that Coyote taught us how to fish.

. . . .

NWNL: What practices have Native Americans traditionally followed to keep our rivers healthy?

RAY GARDNER: It’s really hard to put into words not only how important this river system was, but still is. We have always known that if the people here do not protect Mother Earth, she can’t exist. So, it’s very important to keep all elements of Mother Nature pure and safe. It’s very important to the Chinook people to preserve this river, as we were only allowed to be here by the Creator. With that came the honor of being the people to protect this part of the river. And to protect that, we had to be careful to not pollute the river. The cleanliness of the river and the purity of the river are very important because, obviously, for salmon to survive, they have to have a good water system. Even when our canoes are taken in and out of the water, they are cleansed.

. . . .

NWNL: How do Native Americans honor healthy rivers and salmon populations today?

RAY GARDNER: It’s very deeply ingrained all of the native people. Our concerns are with educating the public and with getting better practices out there. That we can help with. One of the things our people plan is river-area cleanups. Many of our people will come down to this cove, to this beach, to pick up whatever debris has been left behind. When you take that and magnify it by the length of the Columbia River, you start to get a grasp on the problem. For the tribal people, it warms our hearts to know that there are also other people out there trying to help us do what we know needs to be done.

. . . .

NWNL: How do you think we build a healthy and sustainable relationship between Mother Earth, people, industry and government?

RAY GARDNER: Change will never happen because people sit back and say nothing. People have to be willing to stand up and say this isn’t right; this is why it’s not right; and you need to change it…. In a democracy, if enough of the people want something done, it’s the government’s job to make that change. But government will not make a change unless people tell them it needs to be made.

Read the full interview.

Feelin’ free on a raft…I mean, in a Prius rental car

May 22, 2013

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“We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

NWNL Director Alison M. Jones is currently following the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Starting at the headwaters of Lake Itasca, Minnesota and meandering into the middle basin area of Saint Genevieve, Missouri (where she photographed the Flood of ’93) Jones is interviewing stakeholders and stewards along the way, exploring threats and possible management solutions of this watershed. Read the Brief for the Expedition.

2MO-STG-407 © Alison M. Jones– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

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