The mighty Mississippi River is raging this spring, destroying a wide path down our nation’s Heartland. Homes have been lost, families uprooted and businesses destroyed. Farmers have lost their crops, and many have also lost their homes and equipment.
The flood is called the worst on record, eclipsing even the famous 1993 flood. In the span of 18 years, it seems, the region has witnessed two 500-year floods.
The damage will last long after the water recedes, and residents will critique the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the federal government’s response to the disaster. A main point of debate after the flood will focus on the levees built to contain the great river. One levee, the Birds Point Levee in Mississippi County, MO, was intentionally destroyed by the Corps of Engineers in order to relieve flooding in Cairo, Ill.
The breach of the Birds Point Levee flooded 200 square miles of fertile farmland, and destroyed homes and businesses. The floodway area covers more than 130,000 acres in Missouri, an area three times the size of St. Louis. More than 200 residents live in the area in approximately 90 homes. The flooding is presumed to have discharged stored agricultural chemicals, petroleum products and LP-propane gas into the environment.
At issue now is whether the levee should be rebuilt. Last week three Southern Illinois University professors wrote to President Obama urging that the levees not be rebuilt, and that the area be “left open to the river and allowed to be inundated regularly.”
James E. Garvey and Matt R. Whiles, both professors of zoology, and Silvia Secchi, a professor of agribusiness economics, signed the letter to the President, claiming that leaving the river open would have a “much higher potential value” to U.S. society.
Allowing the area to become a wetland, according to the professors, would “reduce the flood risk to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers upstream by allowing the river waters to spread out rather than being forced through the leveed main channel.”
They also claim that commercial and recreational use of this new wetland would increase due to “high productivity of fish and water birds.” And they argued there is a “high potential for this area to become a substantive sink for nitrogen and other pollutants that would otherwise travel downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to the chronic hypoxia that occurs there.”
The thought of leaving the Mississippi open in this region near New Madrid has already raised objections, however. One of the first to voice an opinion was Missouri Farm Bureau president, Blake Hurst, who says the professors' plan to create a new wetland shows a “lack of concern” for the families affected by the flood.
In an opinion released last week, Hurst believes the flood and subsequent destruction of the Birds Point Levee will encourage environmental groups to use “Mississippi County’s misfortune to attempt a land grab of massive proportions.”
As for the professors’ concept of creating a wetland, Hurst says, “I’m not sure how big the ‘I Miss Malaria Caucus’ is, but it’s imperative we drown this foolish idea in its infancy. The levees must be repaired as soon as it dries enough for dirt to be moved.”
Hurst argues that we need the food produced in this region, and “Missouri needs the economic activity, and the farmers who have spent generations making the Mississippi Delta bloom like a rose deserve a chance to reclaim their lives.”