What has happened down here is the wind have changed

Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain

Rained real hard and rained for a real long time

Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

Louisiana –


They’re tyrin’ to wash us away

They’re tryin’ to wash us away

(Randy Newman)

I would not want to be in the shoes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers right now.

You know I have been critical of the Corps over the handling of previous disasters, including the barge still overturned in the Charenton Navigation and Drainage Canal. But this is different.

At some point, decades ago, the powers-that-be made a decision: They would engineer flood control measures to prevent another Mississippi River flood like the one in 1927 to save New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Today, the Corps must decide when to enact those measures and flood somebody else. It’s a matter of numbers, and economics. Let Baton Rouge and New Orleans flood and you’re dealing with about two million people. Save them, and you flood nearly 30,000 in the Morganza Spillway. Farmland, fisheries, oil infrastructure also would be devastated.

What to do?

It’s easy to complain about saving New Orleans at the expense of the Atchafalaya parishes. But there’s no right answer. If it’s a numbers game, then certainly the Big Easy wins. If it’s an economic issue, then again, New Orleans and Baton Rouge win again.

No matter how you dice it, those of us in and at the edge of the basin lose. I understand the numbers. I understand the scenario. It’s just a pretty foul hand to be dealt.

If we all survive this event unscathed, there perhaps should be a rethinking of that whole engineering project. It won’t matter, because there’s no money for a poor southern state like Louisiana. For example, it’s actually easier and cheaper for the federal government to pay FEMA claims than restore our coast and protect our people from hurricanes.

The Atchafalaya Basin protection system was possibly the greatest mistake in the history of flood control, but to be fair, the people who conceived and built it were working with the best information they had at that time. It was only later that we began to realize what a disaster it truly was. Not only has siltation in the basin affected the entire natural balance of the region but it has also diminished its ability to carry water in the event of an epic flood.

So here we are, at the end of the drainage system of 33 states. Even without a flood event, we are the unhappy recipients of all their sediment and pollution. We are the recipients of their commerce, too, and that comes with the mixed bag of good jobs with good pay versus the ecological destruction of our coastline, marshes and barrier reefs.

And when the floods come, we’re the drain hole.

What could we have done differently? Not much, with the science of the day. We could have built channels, similar to the Wax Lake Outlet, every few dozen miles from the basin to the coast, to relieve the Atchafalaya when it needed it, and also continue to build our coastline with sediment. But we didn’t know that then.

We could have left it alone, and let everyone fend for themselves, but how humane is that? No area is free of disasters. We make do.

Myself, I can’t bear thinking about much more. I am sleep-deprived and on edge. So I’m going to walk away and forget for a day, and find a sandstone terrace where clear, cool water is cascading downhill through slump-shouldered hills and around bright, white sandbars. I might find a spotted bass there to take my fly, and let him “haul me in and out of time, in and out of life’s mysterious and frightening, wondrous and incomprehensible continuum, even to the edges of the universe.” (Harry Middleton)

2 comments to Louisiana

  • pete cooper, jr.

    Back in the day, it would have been really difficult for the COE to have NOT created the Morganza Spillway. In retrospect we can now see all sorts of possibly more viable options. But that is not the point of this response. The word SPILLWAY is. It was created to do exactly what is hoped it will do during the next few weeks. Anyone who built/farmed/lived between the levees that create the SPILLWAY may not deserve what they are about to receive, but they sure shouldn’t squeal about it. Because just like Katrina, sooner or later it WAS going to happen!
    And they should have known it!

  • blufloyd

    I can say this from up here in the Illini country our streams and rivers never been as clear as they are now. Recent high water had local river discolored but it was pretty clear couple days later and still high. I come from a line that lived in swamps in Germany but one thing I noticed is we don’t live on the low ground of the drainage in area.

    Well the marsh will be happy…

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