Field of Science

Floods & flood plains

The Army Corps of Engineers are not my favorite bureaucracy; worst land lords ever, but that's another story. Lately though they had a choice to make about flood control and neither was going to prove popular or be without a cost. All our rain up here north goes south via the Mississippi River drainage, and near southern Illinois flooding is frequent because of the confluence of several major rivers: Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio all enter the Mississippi. The rapidly rising water was threatening Cairo (pronounced "kayro") Illinois, a thriving metropolis of two to three thousand people. To prevent that city from flooding, the Corps broke a down stream levee on the Missouri side flooding thousands and thousands of acres of thinly populated largely agricultural land. This is a hard equation to solve, but probably the agricultural land, former flood plains bottom land, is the more valuable, but Cairo would impact more people, but not so many that the choice is obvious. Other than a couple of BBQ places, there isn't much to Cairo that cries out for saving, but some people call it home. So the Phactor will endeavor to make both parties feel better. No one should have built a city there nor decided live on flood plains either. The land isn't really yours; it was borrowed from the rivers, and at times like this, the river needs it back. And therein is the whole problem; human intervention has created this problem by not "going with the flow". Back in the old days settlements along the Mississippi were either on bluffs or way back across the flood plains on the lower shoulder of the river valley; remnants of them can still be found in places. Nice fertile soil out there, washed down from up here, but dang it, you can't farm it when it floods. And it was tough getting to those river boats for transportation and commerce, so all those nice levees were built, and the wetlands were drained, and people decided to live on the bottom lands or the river shore for a matter of convenience. Well, things aren't so convenient now, but it was a fool's dream that you could permanently steal land from a big river that built the land in the 1st place. So while it's not nice for the individuals whose lives and livelihoods are disrupted, it's all the result of poor choices made some time ago. The lowest and most flood prone areas, especially those upstream, should be restored to wet land areas that will act like sponges, slowing the flow, and taking the pressure off the main channel, and of course, many organisms would benefit whose populations have suffered from the loss of wetland habitat. But we're talking about the Army Corps, the same brainiacs that channelized the everglades and Mississippi delta. Now they got a plumbing problem a lot worse than the one in my old house with the result they must make no-win choices. So think they'll go for longer term solutions, or just put a bandage back in place?

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