The difficulty with managing a calamitous flood, such as Mississippi is now experiencing in the southern part of the Delta, is having to “pick your poison.”
Once river stages get as high as they have been for the past several months, there’s no way you can ameliorate the situation in one part of the flooded area without negatively impacting someplace else.
Farmers and residents in the southern part of the Delta are understandably frustrated. With more than a half-million acres under water, half of it farmland, the scope of the flooding is being compared to the 1927 flood, one of the worst on record in Mississippi in modern history.
The normal outlet through which this year’s water, funneling down from other parts of the Delta and areas further north, would drain has been largely shut off since February. With no place to go, the water backs up — in some places 10 feet deep.
The situation has led to renewed clamoring for a massive pumping project — projected to cost $220 million when it was shelved a decade ago by federal regulators — to be revived, so that such backwater flooding could be mitigated in the future by pumping the water over the levees that are holding the water in and putting it instead into the Mississippi River.
Meanwhile, the seafood industry on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is complaining about a separate flood-control measure that is threatening its livelihood as well as putting non-harvested marine life at risk. In order to relieve the pressure of the swollen Mississippi River on the levees around New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been diverting trillions of gallons of that water via the Bonnet Carre Spillway to Lake Pontchartrain. Eventually, that extraordinary infusion of fresh water makes its way into the Gulf of Mexico, upsetting the salinity levels there, either killing or driving away marine life. The potential losses are in the millions of dollars this year, and the negative effects can continue for years into the future once a natural habitat is disturbed.
The Corps of Engineers, the levee boards and others who have to balance these competing interests and try to reach a solution that causes the least amount of harm. When the water gets this high, sometimes you run out of places to send it.