Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Fight Against Mother Nature

You can’t fight Mother Nature!  That’s a lesson we, as Americans, seem to have never learned, and Mother Nature is surely winning in the Midwest. 

As the Midwest has been pummeled by rain this spring, the water levels along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are at all-time highs which are creating some difficult situations to those who live on their banks. 

One of the biggest controversies has been a situation in Cairo, IL.  This small town of about 2,800 residents sits precariously between and just north of the convergence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  The Mississippi River separates it from the neighboring state of Missouri.

Cairo’s residents have watched as the bulging Mississippi water level has risen to record highs.  What to do to protect the town of Cairo from flooding has stirred a major debate between the state of Illinois and Missouri. 

The Army Corp of Engineers stepped in a few weeks ago as the water was dangerously approaching the levee’s peak.  Back in 1927, the exact situation existed and the decision was made to intentionally breach the levee allowing the water to flood farmland on the Missouri side of the river in an effort to lower the water levels putting pressure on the levees near Cairo.

You can imagine the controversy.  Flooding farmland puts farmers out of business for the rest of the season, but breaking the levee saves a town.  The farmland was designated a flood-way back in 1927 as the corp. decided then that flooding the land would be “the plan” for future possible levee crests. 

To complicate matters, the farmland is in Missouri while the town is in Illinois which has brought out the politicians.

Prior to yesterday, questions mounted.  Who will pay for the more than $300 million in damage to farmland and costs to evacuate the approximately 230 Missourians?  Will farm flood insurance cover personal property damages?  After all this would be a man-made catastrophe.  What will happen to the farmland as the water subsides?  Will the water ever subside?  What will be the effect of silt deposits the water leaves behind?

Monday evening the corp. breached the levee and the river flooded the Missouri farmland.  Some people are furious about this – others are thankful that their homes were spared. 

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the steps taken, this is a perfect example of how we cannot control Mother Nature.  We try to build taller levees to protect adjacent land, towns and businesses, but the fact is, building bigger and bigger levees only pushes the problem elsewhere to another town - another state.  Someone loses.

While the residents of Cairo have surely won this small battle, the Corp. blew a hole in another part of the Cairo levee this afternoon to relieve the yet-rising water.  So, in case you’re keeping tabs, Mother Nature is still winning. 

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