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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Blog by Alison M. Jones, Director of NWNL
[Source of images and information: The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretive Site, Vicksburg]