Flooding along the Mississippi River
Join Keith Ouchley for a flight over the flooded Atchafalaya River basin.
Flooding in the Mississippi River Valley: Looking Forward
Nature Conservancy staff survey flood conditions near New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
As we bear witness to the devastation along the Mississippi River, staff carefully consider what role the Conservancy should play in helping mitigate flood damages now and in the future.
Evacuation and safety information related to the historic Mississippi River flood is filtering quickly from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal, state and local agencies to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s one of many attempts to communicate with flood victims and answer their questions.
While these efforts continue and folks begin to meet their immediate safety needs, another big question keeps surfacing. How can we prevent these devastating floods from happening again?
Certainly, there is a long answer to this with a number of solutions. But for Conservancy staff working in the field right now it all boils down to one overarching concept: teamwork.
When you witness people gathering to hand out food or rescue a neighbor by canoe it’s clear — if we all work together we can rise above the tide. The challenge, of course, will be to maintain this sense of community and partnership after the water has receded and no immediate danger presents itself.
The Mississippi River, the world’s third largest watershed, is an orphan in that it is not protected or overseen by one entity. Decisions are framed by district and state boundaries rather than made in a holistic way that addresses the needs of the entire river system.
Better water management and a departure from this piecemeal decision-making will allow us to more effectively manage floods. Likewise, it will allow us to address nutrient pollution, safeguard wildlife and our recreational interests, and prevent growing concerns about water scarcity. Ironically, we have a drought in western Louisiana as the mighty Mississippi sets record flows in eastern Louisiana.
Working with stakeholders along the river – from barge operators and farmers to private landowners and communities – is really the best solution to minimizing the damage of the next flood. Teamwork and a systems approach is imperative for success.
Now, for the longer explanation (which gets more ‘unabridged’ as you dive into the links):
Think of a floodplain as a safety net for the river. Without it, there’s no place to for the water to swell during periods of heavy rain. By making floodplain restoration an integral part of our solutions, in a way that’s compatible with agriculture and communities, we can reduce overall flood levels and see other environmental benefits.
Whether it’s valued as a navigation corridor by the barge industry or as a great place to fish by your neighbor, the Mississippi River offers a common thread for our nation and especially the 31 states that drain into it. That’s why a group of organizations have come together to reach out to the governors of theses states as well as public and private interest groups. They are articulating a vision for the river that integrates social and environmental needs and, ultimately, establishes a collective voice that can be heard in Washington.
The Mississippi River has something to say. And though we tend to listen more often when it’s shouting, there is a calm and constant message out there. It’s asking us to slow down. Let’s be thoughtful about where we develop new structures so that the river has breathing room and we stay out of harm’s way. Let’s incorporate wetlands into our farming practices so that we can pace water drainage and eliminate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous entering the waterways.
Our modern lives can exist and thrive in the same space with nature. Technology can help us strike that balance, as it has at the Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve along the Illinois River. There, computer models are predicting how the floodplain restoration’s land and water will respond to a variety of conditions. Similar techniques can be replicated and used to tell us the positive and negative impacts of our development and flood control methods throughout the Mississippi River basin.
Observing the natural world shows us that symbiotic, or cooperative, relationships produce the best results for everyone. It’s a lesson we should take to heart when planning how to minimize the damage caused by floods. This one river, the Mississippi - and the people that live and work along it – are relying on all of us.November 14, 2013