For weeks now, people living in Louisiana’s two biggest cities, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, have been watching the slow, indefatigable progress of the Mississippi River as it inundates each city that it goes through. As the river flows south, tributaries merge into it, making its power even more intense. By last night, even before most of the onrushing Mississippi has reached the state, the water level in Baton Rouge was only a few feet below flood stage.

This afternoon, at around 3:00 (Central Time), the Morganza Spillway was opened north of Baton Rouge. By doing this, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates that this will divert 10,000 cubic feet of water per second about 30 miles to the west of the city into an area that is much less populated. Although 10,000 cubic feet per second sounds like a lot, the river will be flowing at a rate of 1.5 MILLION cubic feet per second in Louisiana by this time tomorrow. So, less than 1% of the water will be diverted. Then, once this action is done, up to 125 other bays will also be opened; once this is accomplished about 300,000 cubic feet per second will be diverted.

On the next page is a photo showing the effect of the diversion, and a video of the history of the Morganza Spillway, and what its intent is.

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The spillway was built in 1954; however it has only been opened once in the intervening 60 years, in the 1970s, and nobody is sure that it can be closed again (this doesn’t make any sense to me, either). The diverted water will be sent into what is known as the Atchafalaya Basin, which also leads to the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the land that will be flooded is either bayous (swamps) or forested areas. The only city of any size that will be affected is Morgan City, a fishing town on the Gulf that has about 25,000 people. Near New Orleans, the Bonnet Carre Spillway has already been opened, sending water from the river into Lake Pontchartrain.

Why is this important to me? I live in a flood zone; my house abuts a creek that flows into a bayou. Once the Mississippi floods here, since the state is so flat, the river will back up into the creeks and bayous and much of my house will be underwater. On the other hand, I pay flood insurance, and don’t much care about goofy stuff like furniture (much to my wife’s chagrin). As I wrote on an earlier post, I’ll be vacationing in Canada when my home floods, so it will be an interesting surprise for me when I return.

Why is this important to you? If you travel on the river south to Baton Rouge, when you arrive here, you’ll see a bunch of shiny structures. These are called oil refineries. If they are useless in the short-term, it will mean a large increase in the price of oil and gasoline. If they are useless long-term, because the river cannot be redirected to its former state, the companies must rebuild them where they can be useful to them, causing an indeterminate increase until this can be completed.

Are there downsides to this diversion? Heck yeah. Regions of our nation have places that are sacrosanct to them. In the Midwest, it is family farms. In western Pennsylvania, where I was raised, it is steel mills and coal mines. Down here, it is the area that will be flooded to protect the cities. This is the area where the Cajun community still thrives, where much of the hunting and fishing industry still dominates, where there is a lot of crawfish and catfish fishermen work, and where the wildlife will be gone, at least for the short term.

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