The Mississippi and the Atchafalaya

Looks like the Army Corps of Engineers is planning to open the Morganza Spillway this weekend. Here’s a map of the areas projected to flood in Louisiana if the Morganza is opened completely:

I just read John McPhee’s Control of Nature which has a long section about the levees and dams on the Mississippi including the Old River Control Structure. I remember around 1981 I had this book called Dark Gator: Villain of the Atchafalaya that I got from a friend in junior high in Houston. It had this amateurish home-grown quality to it that I loved and I went off to look up “Atchafalaya” in the encyclopedia because I liked the way the word sounded. It blew my mind that there was a whole other giant river that was sort of but not quite part of the Mississippi. I think at the time my dad also explained about Cajuns and Acadians which he had read about in Francis Parkman, because of the book and because I had another friend who liked to boast about being a “Cajun coonass”.

I always think of her and of the Dark Gator comic book when I read about the floods – and I get the song Tupelo by John Lee Hooker stuck in my head.

The levee was already breached near New Madrid, flooding a huge area of farmland to save the town of Cairo and drop the crest levels further down river.

The Mississippi may change course to run primarily into the Atchafalaya basin rather than through New Orleans, and they’re opening the Morganza Spillway to try and prevent the Old River Control Structure from blowing out, which sounds like the highest risk of the river being captured by a new drainage area.

I get fascinated with the technical details of riverways and dams, and the infrastructure necessary to keep everything as it is. It’s haunting me to think of all the people displaced right now and others who may not have evacuated from the flood plains at risk.

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