The Morganza Spillway: Denying the river

Est. inundation if spillway is opened (click to enlarge)

The Morganza Spillway. It seems to get mentioned in every story about the flooding along the Mississippi River. So I finally went to Wikipedia to find out what it is, exactly, and why it’s so important.

By the time I finished following links and reading, I’d learned quite a bit about the actual flow of the Mississippi River through Louisiana. Previously, about all I’d known was the river flows through the state, past New Orleans, through the Mississippi Delta, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

River and flood control in the state has quite a history, if you want to delve into it. But what really intrigued me was that the Morganza Spillway controls how much of the Mississippi’s water goes into the Atchafalaya River. Currently about 70% of the flow goes downriver past New Orleans and about 30% into the Atchafalaya, but it seems the river really wants to change its course and reverse those percentages. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in 1953 that this would happen by 1990 if it didn’t intervene.

Obviously if the river changed course, the economic impact would reverberate far beyond the state of Louisiana. But I’m having a tough time comprehending the ego of a species that presumes to control and direct the course of  the mightiest river in North America. The same applies to those folks upstream who deliberately, knowingly build their homes and farms in the river’s floodplain, trusting that a few flimsy levees will protect them.

The river will have its way eventually. If not this year, then sometime in the future.


I also learned a new word — “distributary.”  The Atchafalaya River is a distributary of the Mississippi River.

2 thoughts on “The Morganza Spillway: Denying the river

  1. The levees are only the first line of defense. The federal government provides tax payer subsidized flood insurance. Back when you could actually buy flood insurance on the open market, it became so expensive that it made building in flood plains prohibitively expensive.

    People who live on mountain tops and in deserts pay to rebuild homes and businesses built in flood plains. The result is commonly called mal-investment – inspired by an artificial value system. Like the FDIC, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FED – it’s a pre-disaster no-fault bailout system.

    1. I don’t begrudge some government funds to the farmers, because they are farming the richest soil in the country in order to feed the rest of us. But anyone else who knowingly builds or rebuilds in a floodplain should be willing to assume the risk themselves (flooding, no flood insurance). As for other people paying for it, we pay either way — either with taxes to the government or through our own insurance premiums, which are calculated to cover everyone in the pool.

... and that's my two cents