May 19th, 2011
06:24 PM ET

As flooding spreads, debate rages over price of manipulating Mother Nature

The river gives and the river takes away.

Which is perhaps why those who see the impact firsthand continue to look for solutions, hoping that something can be saved.

But whether manipulating the system to battle Mother Nature is worth the price - environmentally and financially - is a hot topic near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Yazoo River, which drains into the Mississippi River, continues to put pressure on the levee system with backwater flooding spreading.  The South Delta often is inundated during heavy rains, and a flood like this one is overwhelming.

In this area, where the Mississippi is cresting, residents see a means of controlling the river, and they believe their state is getting a raw deal.

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed Mississippi's plan to build the world's largest hydraulic pumping station where the Delta drains into the Yazoo, which in turn drains into the Mississippi. It was authorized as part of the Flood Control Act of 1941, but Congress didn't fully fund it. Several attempts to get it done have failed and the EPA veto appears to be the final hammer blow, with the EPA contending the project didn't meet all the requirements to proceed under the Clean Water Act.

Locals blame bureaucracy and lobbyists, and say a poor state is getting the shaft. They see Louisiana with all its pumping stations and feel slighted. But critics of Mississippi's plan say it would cost too much for too few people and that it would destroy wetlands.

Politically, this is one of the few instances where the left and the right seemed to be satisfied. Environmentalists certainly don't want a massive pump that sucks the life out of wetlands. Fiscal conservatives don't want to spend the $220 million federal tax dollars called for.

But many of the folks in Mississippi's South Delta feel caught in the middle. I truly feel for the people of Mississippi. I was here during Hurricane Katrina, during the BP oil spill, and now this epic flood. Unfortunately, the best long-term solution is to allow the Delta to flood naturally and let the wetlands rebuild back to the flood/storm buffer they once were. That requires relocating people and farmland. Not gonna happen.

Now the floodwaters are rising in Louisiana and flowing through the Atchafalaya Swamp. People in the floodway are fleeing their homes. Opening the Morganza Spillway is dumping valuable river nutrients into Louisiana's wetlands while flushing out some stuff that shouldn't be there, which scientists say is a good thing. Good for the ecology, but bad for the neighborhoods.

The river gives and the river takes away. I suppose that's the way it's always been, but our manipulation of the rivers over the last century has led to a dilemma that won't change anytime soon.

Post by:
Filed under: Mississippi • Weather
soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. Ellis from Panama

    Quick, someone do me.

    May 20, 2011 at 5:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. Andre L.

    A balanced approach is needed. I'm particularly sick and annoyed by those that, from the comfort of their chair in a warm house somewhere near Earthquake zones (California), Tornado Alley (Oklahoma), Nor'easter blow alley (Boston, New York) or some other of 95% of American territory subject to one natural risk or another to claim that "the river must be allowed to run naturally". It is tantamount to say we shouldn't build reinforced buildings and tornado bunkers because the seismic movements and the wind should be allowed to wreak havoc freely.

    At the same time, some caution is needed. As much as you have exact earthquake or volcano risk maps, you would avoid the most critical areas because it is just common sense. You don't build a house on the immediate vicinity of a high-risk area of a pyroclastic flow of an all-time active volcano like those in Hawaii. People should also avoid the most critical areas that mix a river delta, marshlands and hurricane buffer zones.

    In any case, we can't just sit down and do nothing to counteract, mitigate and contain effects of natural disasters. We only survived as human species because we learned how to deal with the fury of nature. Nature is not a mother, is just a emotionless system of atoms and substances that sometimes give us problems to deal with.

    May 20, 2011 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      It's not nice to fool with mother nature....

      May 20, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      We certainly have never done nothing. Maybe its time. The prevention is more expensive than the loss. A pound of prevention is not worth an ounce of cure.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Cranky

      I understand what you're saying about the earthquake/mudslide/fire storm areas like California or the tornado areas like the mid-west, but Nor'easters only come once every couple or so years and don't usually need any kind of special equipment, insurace, or fed money to get through. You just get buried for a day or two and that's it.

      May 20, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • randy

      Why don't we keep that 2 billion in aid that we are sending to another country, and keep it here to help our own people out in disasters such as the Mississippi River flooding, tornado damage, and wild fires. Quit sending our tax money to help out other countries, and help ourselves. We send Billons of dollars to other countriesin aid, but when we have a tragedy or disaster here, what do they send? Lets keep our tax money home, and if our elected officials don't agree, it's time for a change in ours goverment.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Guess Who

    @ Ellis from Panama:
    I'm from Mississippi.
    I wear 30W Diesel ($) jeans. I'm a bodybuilder and compete at 175.

    May 20, 2011 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      You forgot to mention that you are also an idiot.

      May 20, 2011 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Cranky

      Okee-silly-dokee-oh, I'm an idiot!

      May 20, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Frank - (R-Ohio)

    Our weather here is clearing up, and hope and pray as our Ohio River Valley clears up, the cresting is receeding in your area. Also if the world apocolypse doesn't materialize tomorrow 5/21/11, perhaps some of these "alarmists" that like to add insult to injury, can "DO" something real to help Louisiana and its' people. 🙂

    May 20, 2011 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. Guess Who

    @ Ellis from Panama:
    I frequently post here under another nom de plume. It is my impression that you don't like what I write.

    May 20, 2011 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |


    May 20, 2011 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. Scott Koss

    Guess our government feels it makes more sense to send our tax dollars overseas than to take care of #1. Whatever happened to that concept????

    May 20, 2011 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. Joey

    The concept of taking care of #1 implies that #1 takes care of himself, and that an individual does not count on tax dollars for either a make-work job or welfare.
    Businesses go overseas to hire workers at market-realistic prices.

    May 20, 2011 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
    • spencer

      Jobs started going over seas the moment NAFTA got signed (even though it was the North American Free Trade Agreement). It gave the companies a reason to leave this country. Ross Peru was right when he stated on Larry King Live ((with Al Gore (the ozone man present))...."that the giant sucking sound are the American jobs leaving this country to go overseas". That was the early 90's....Not present day.....And they have continued to leave since that stupid deal was signed (with Al Gore casting the winning vote). Obama campaigned offering incentives to companies to come back....I am still waiting on that to happen.

      May 20, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joe B

    Andre L.,

    Earthquakes may come or they may not but you know for sure that the mighty Mississippi is going to flood's a why build permanent structures in the wetland/buffer zones knowing that the inevitable will happen? Just because you make money off development doesn't mean that you should be able to do it wherever you want.

    May 20, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • tmmcis

      "Earthquakes may come or they may not". No, earthquakes will come, period. They may come soon and be smaller or wait and be larger but the plates that cause them will not stop moving. Floods on the Mississippi are just as inevitable as earthquakes in California, Hurricanes in the Atlantic, tornadoes in the central US, and earthquakes in the midwest (look up the New Madrid fault line).

      May 20, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joey

    @ Joe B:
    Caveat emptor.

    May 20, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. PeterD

    CNN Breaking New. Just In. President Obama has just annouced that he is going to divert FEMA Funds assigned to help Mississippi Flood Victims to support Palestinian cause to redraw Border with Israel going back to 1967.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Joey

    @ PeterD:
    I didn't see your breaking news on CNN, but if that's what it took, our nation's security and prosperity would be far more important than replacing houses that weren't built in safe areas.
    A Palestine with pre-1967 borders is a beautiful goal for President Obama. It would be one of his finest accomplishments.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • PeterD

      What is safe? By drawing 1967 line if you think that region will be safe again then my friend You and President Obama are Fool.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. Joey

    I didn't say that the 1967 line would be safe.
    I advocate that line because it would be somewhat just–as just as any settlement is likely to be after the establishment of Israel.
    No national boundary is kept safe by any means but military force.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. CORSAK

    The government should of planed for this flood by building levees diverting the access water to the areas that could use the water, In strategic places along the Mississippi river. With the access earth taken from the levees, this can be used to build up areas that could use this. And they had plenty of warning, the signs are all around the world. Open your eye�s people!
    Lubec, Me.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Hungry Joe

    Great idea CORSAK! Let's see...the Colorado River basin needs water but how do you think we can get it there?

    May 21, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
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