ALEXANDRIA, La May 15, 2011 —On Saturday, May 14, 2011, The first floodgates of the Morganza Spillway opened, and for the first time since 1973, water flowed through the gates.
The goal: decrease the torrential flow of Mississippi River water flowing downstream toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans, easing some of the pressure off the levee system to prevent breaks.
Built and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Morganza Spillway, which measures some 20 miles long and five miles wide, was built after the flood of 1927, to divert excess floodwater from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin, and alleviate levee stress.
The key to opening the Morganza Spillway is the point at which the Mississippi River flow at the Red River Landing, reaches 1.5 million cubic feet per second (cfs). Today, (May 14, 2011), the Mighty Mississippi River flow reached that critical point.
Where did all the water come from?
According to a Reuters report by Binaca Phillips, posted on May 5, 2011, winter snow caused near-record crests on the Upper Mississippi, at about the same time that extremely heavy rains occurred. To understand the magnitude of this combination of events, we need to remember that the Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America, and extends some 2,320 miles, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Not only that, the Mississippi River drains all or parts from some 31 states, and is one of the four longest rivers in the entire world. And that’s on a normal year.
With the addition of nearly record-levels of snow and rain that occurred this year, it is easy to imagine how this much excess water would compound the level and flow rate of water that flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. (Think: water balloon with finger-like extensions at one end. Now, attach a garden hose, turned on, to the big end of the balloon. What happens? As pressure increases from addition of water, the balloon swells, the hole in the finger gets bigger and water flows out faster, until the entire balloon reaches it breaking point and explodes).
What happens now?
All the spillway gates will not be opened at once. Rather, they will be opened one-at-a-time, over a specific period of time, in order to allow both individuals and wildlife time to move away from the rising water.
In Louisiana alone, floodwaters are expected to affect some 25,000 people and 11,000 structures. Estimates are that 3,000 square miles, which includes a lot of prime delta farmland, could see water levels rise as much as 25 feet.
What about all the flooded homes already under water?
Unfortunately, individuals who’ve already undergone flood conditions can verify that floods are only the beginning of an on-going disaster.
One of the main problems right now is that this massive flow started thousands of miles upstream, flooded numerous homes, businesses and cities, and the flowing water now carries all the contamination resulting from this event.
To get an idea of what kind of contamination the Mississippi River water might carry, take a look around your own home or apartment. If your house is like mine, you will see laundry detergent, cleaning additives for mopping floors, carpet cleaners, laminate cleaners, and bathroom cleaners. Add to that any containers of bug spray, garden fertilizer (liquid or solid), medications, shower gels, hair shampoo, perfume, body oils, etc.
Then, go outside, or better yet, into your garage. See any chemicals such as paint thinner, varnish, weed killers? What about paint, automotive engine oil, etc.? Now, multiply what you see by the hundreds of homes, maybe even thousands, currently flooded, and you will get a very rough guess of what household contaminates could now be flowing through the river.
Then, there’s flooded businesses to consider. What about hardware stores that may have been flooded? Think of all the products they sell. Any sewage treatment plants flooded? What about landfills? Pharmacies? Supermarkets?
The list goes on and on, once you start thinking about it.
What happens after the water goes down?
First, there’s all the sediments and mud that lines every cabinet, closet, and basically any place where two walls, doors, etc. meet. Then, after that gets cleaned up, there’s the little problem of mold. Mold in homes is a major health concern.
Also – What will happen to all the walls, carpet, flooring, etc. that must now be replaced? What about chemical storage units? Are any of those flooded?
What if this was your family being evacuated? Think about it. What would be your first thought if you had to leave your home, unsure of whether or not there would be anything left when you return?
Would you think about the can of bug spray in the utility room? The can of bathroom cleanser under the cabinet, or would your first priority be to save what means the most to you – your family, pets, etc. Very few individuals would consider items in their garage or utility rooms when packing up to evacuate.
I don’t judge; When we left our home during an evacuation, our main concern was family, pets, clothes, computer; the last thing on our mind was the cleaning products under the counter.
Now that you’ve thought about those items, consider this: What about all the oil and gas refineries and chemical plants located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans? What happens to them if the levees break and water inundates those structures? How much pressure can they withstand?
What kind and how much, if any, irreversible environmental damage would result if those areas flood, or worst-case scenario, leaked every single ounce of liquid or solid item they contain into the floodwaters?
This is a lot of information to consider, and is probably only a fraction of concerns the US Army Corps of Engineers, local, state and federal officials considered before making the monumental decision to open the spillways.
We have to do everything in our power to prevent the levees that keep the Mississippi River water at bay from breaking. If New Orleans and Baton Rouge flood, the damage from Hurricane Katrina and subsequent hurricanes will seem minute when compared to the personal and environmental damages that will result from multiple levee breaks.
The US Army Corps of Engineers, along with state, local and federal officials had a gut-wrenching decision to make when they decided to open both the Bonnet Carre Spillway and Morganza Spillway. It was, unfortunately, a decision of “sacrificing the few for the good of the many.”
Today, we need to help those already affected, and pray that opening the spillways will be enough, soon enough, to stop the Mississippi River from wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale. The clock is ticking, and only time will tell if the timer is for a bomb, or a wake-up call.
Out and About Louisiana will continue to report events as they unfold.
Carla is the author of four published suspense novels, and her latest book, Artful Misdirection, is currently available in Kindle format on Amazon.com. Read more of her work at Out and About Louisiana in the Washington Times Communities.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.