random linkage

This article is very long, but I found it made for fascinating reading. (Pair with these images to get a sense of what’s going on in the vicinity of Old River Control.) I’ve known for quite a while about the whole “the Mississippi changes its bed” thing, but I didn’t realize that it is very specifically trying to do so right now, and has been for several decades, and furthermore the article gives me a very clear sense of both what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done to stop it, and what the costs of those attempts are.

It isn’t cheerful reading; you walk away with a realization that it isn’t just New Orleans, it’s pretty much all human habitation in the Mississippi River Delta that just maybe, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, shouldn’t be there. And I don’t know what we can do to fix that, short of throwing our hands up in the air and saying bye-bye to the region. But it’s very interesting stuff.

0 Responses to “random linkage”

  1. mrissa

    You know, I’ve seen people use that phrasing before–that pragmatically we should not live on the River Delta–and I am really rather skeptical. Because pragmatically we really should use the River for shipping and logistics–if you go to Lock & Dam #1 on the Mississippi, they will give you stats on the energy efficiency of sending things downriver on barge vs. shipping them by truck or rail, and it’s a very clear win. We don’t settle these places because we are stupid or unaware of the dangers. We settle them because there are darn good reasons to have people around to move cargo around at the mouth of a bloody huge river. Saying bye-bye to the region is not just about land, it’s about transportation. Everything has its costs.

    Where I got really angry was when Minnesotans were saying rather sanctimoniously in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that if people were smart, they just wouldn’t live there. And I went, “That is YOUR grain. That is YOUR iron. It is YOUR STUFF that these people are switching from boat to boat. YOURS. Without those people who are willing to work those jobs, your costs would skyrocket.”

    It’s not just the River Delta we’d be saying goodbye to. It’s great heaps and gobs of the River corridor–and we’d have to accept the greater environmental costs for changing that sort of shipping.

    I really think the answer has to be that we try to handle housing and other aspects of that region differently, because it’s not just a matter of “we’re not long on extra land,” it’s exactly the stuff that makes this particular land dangerous that also makes it very much worth our time to deal with.

    • mindstalk

      Well, an ideal pragmatic society might use the river, but also be more willing and able to move *with* the river. Or to live on higher land (possibly artificial) and commute to work on the mobile river, the way history-respecting Japanese villages didn’t build below the level of past tsunamis.

      Bryn: “for several decades”: article is from 1987, so over two more decades have passed since then…

    • Marie Brennan

      I think it would be feasible to continue using the river for shipping without having the current density of population that requires so many levees and so on. But if we didn’t do the other things down there that we currently do (e.g. agriculture), we’d have to do them elsewhere (because let’s face it, we need food), and it isn’t like there aren’t any problems with that; the Midwest has water issues, just of a different sort. But in the Delta, you have some very simple and problematic facts, like: if you stop flooding in an area, you stop soil deposition, and if you stop soil deposition, then the entire place is going to gradually sink as the sediments compact, and that’s going to make stopping flooding harder. Plus you’ve built things based on an assumption of “here is the river,” so either you abandon those places when the river moves or you try to stop the river from moving, and there’s problems with either one. Etc.

      Am I advocating depopulating the Delta and declaring it no-go for anything besides shipping? Of course not. But I am looking at the situation and going, “wow, we’ve really gotten ourselves into one hell of a mess down there.” And if the experts don’t have an answer for it, I sure as hell don’t, either.

      • mrissa

        Well, New Scientist had an article about trying to get some of the sediment to go where there’s currently erosion instead of out into the Gulf where they don’t want it either. Wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it seems like it would be a step of the magnitude of the early Corps of Engineering stuff.

  2. greybar

    On the more cheerful side, are you going to be tying that into your game?

    • Marie Brennan

      Already have. 🙂 Manifest Destiny, the avatar of the Titan of Hunger that has corrupted Columbia and Uncle Sam, had been imprisoned by the Mississippi (itself also a Titan avatar) in an analogue of the Delta. The shifting waterways made it essentially impossible to escape; the PCs, when they got caught there, made it out by striking a deal with Old Man River.

  3. slb44

    Great article, thanks for the link.

    To augment that I thought I’d share this post with you. It’s by Jeff Masters and the imagery is almost as good as the blog post itself.


    • Marie Brennan

      Good to have an update, since it’s been pointed out to me that the original article is 24 years old. Thanks!

      • slb44

        I noticed that about the original article but I still felt it was very worth while reading. It gave a historical perspective to what is going on right now.

        You’re welcome!

  4. pentane

    Wow, cool, thanks.

  5. kernezelda

    That’s a really interesting article. Mom and Dad both came from MS delta region, and I vaguely recall that at some point when I was a kid, Mom took me to see the levee.

    The amount of work and effort and money that has gone into fighting to control the river is awesome, but wow, when it breaks…

    • Marie Brennan

      And it seems to be a vicious cycle of “break / build better / break again / build better still / eventually this will all completely fail.”

  6. Anonymous

    Hhuh. Excellent point.

    An implicit bit of advice in this: GET A LIVING WILL!

    Now that I’ve got a kid, this has rapidly moved up on my priority list.

  7. Anonymous

    No, thanks. I suspect a nineteenth-century teacher would materialize out of nowhere to cane me until I moved the pen to my right hand.

  8. Anonymous

    Well, I was going to sign up for the writer crit thing, but now it feels like I shouldn’t take the spot from someone who can’t email you tomorrow and be all “READ THIS AND TELL ME WHY IT SUCKS WAAAA!”

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