Posts Tagged ‘USACE’

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]

 

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.

We’re all connected downstream

April 4, 2014
USA:  New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring

USA: New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring

WHAT YOU CAN DO to protect our water resources:
Support the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers –

It’s critical we all have clean fresh water! The EPA and USACE are proposing a clarification of their rules that protect our water quality by addressing upstream impacts on downstream communities. Ending loopholes in the 1970’s Clean Water Act will stop the free dumping of toxins into small streams and wetlands. This will affect some farmers’ use of pesticides and herbicides; but it will encourage restoration of riverine corridors and wetlands that filter such toxins. In the long-run, a tighter Clean Water Act will benefit us all.

NWNL asks everyone to jump in here!!

— Read the proposal.
— Listen to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on this ruling.
Contact the EPA during its 90-day Comment Period.

 

Meander Scars of the Great Mississippi

October 11, 2013

As we’ve learned on expedition, paths will change, unexpected twists and turns are inevitable. Over time, the Mississippi River too, has changed its course, so beautifully depicted in Harold Fisk’s hand-colored maps from 1944 in a report for the US Army Corps of Engineers. This twisted timeline of rainbow ribbons go as far back as some 2000 years, tracing the various stages of the Mississippi. These maps remind us that it is crucial to look backwards to understand hydrological history and examine engineered systems, as we look forward in a sustainable direction.

Here’s a great article on NPR which includes the full set of maps connecting Illinois to Louisiana…
http://www.npr.org/blogs/inside/2010/07/14/128511984/twisted-history-the-wily-mississippi-cuts-new-paths

Read about LSU’s new physical model being developed (of key coastal areas) expected to open in Summer 2014: http://www.lsu.edu/departments/gold/2013/03/river_studies.shtml

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

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.

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