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Thoughts on the Flood Control System for the Mississippi River

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Author: Phillip Doiron, Homeland Security Specialist, IEM

In this blog post, I wanted to express some thoughts on the flood that is presently moving south along the Mississippi River. I grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where some of the worst flooding has been observed, and my father was a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Vicksburg District. I retired from the USACE Research Center in Vicksburg.

Water flows through four open gates of the Morganza spillway into the Atchafalaya River basin in this May 15, 2011 photo. (The Lafayette Daily Advertiser/P.C. Piazza/AP Photo)

One thing that is very obvious when looking at the current situation is that the flood control system that was designed and built following the Great Flood of 1927 is working as intended. In addition to the levees that the USACE built, floodways and spillways were also constructed and have been integral to the successful operation of the flood control system.

The levees have been built along the Mississippi to protect as much rural area and as many cities as possible. The levees are not small structures. In some places, they measure 120 feet across at the base and 30 to 40 feet high. Once the USACE builds the levees, the maintenance of the levees is turned over to local levee boards. Most of these levee boards take this responsibility seriously and are very active in maintenance programs. However, when a flood occurs, there might be problem areas along the levee system. After each flood, problem areas are identified, and the USACE comes in to correct them. For example, the height of the levee may be raised following a flood. I know this occurred in several places after the 1973 flood. There will be remedial actions following this flood as well. (more…)