The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America and the headwaters of the second-largest drainage system, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. How Much Does the US Government Spend to Keep the Mississippi River from Changing Course?
The United States spent billions to prevent the Mississippi River from changing course and destroying New Orleans.
Chaining the Mississippi
For fifty-five years, this marvel of modern civil engineering has done what many thoughts was impossible: impose man’s will on the Mississippi River. In his book Life on the Mississippi,
Ten thousand river commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb or define it, cannot say to it ‘Go here,’ or ‘Go there,’ and make it obey; The great river wishes to carve a new path to the Gulf of Mexico, but only the Old River Control Structure prevents it.Mark Twain, Author
Failure of the Old River Control Structure, and the Mississippi’s subsequent jump to a new path to the Gulf, would be a severe blow to America’s economy, depriving New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the critical industrial corridor between them of the freshwater they require to live and do business.
Since a huge portion of our imports and exports ship along the Mississippi River, a closure would cost $295 million per day, during the great flood of 2011. An extended closure of the Lower Mississippi to shipping might cost tens of billions. Since barges on the Mississippi carry 60% of U.S. grain to market, a long closure of the river to barge traffic could cause a significant spike in global food prices, potentially resulting in political upheaval like the “Arab Spring” unrest in 2011, and the specter of famine in vulnerable food-insecure nations of the Third World.Gary Larange, Executive Director of the Port of New Orleans
The History of Mississippi
Since immemorial, the Mississippi River has carved a path to the sea, always seeking the shortest and steepest route possible. Every 1000 years, the river bursts through its banks, cutting a new way to the sea. The Mississippi has been flowing past New Orleans along its current course since around 1000 A.D. Still, beginning in the 1800s, the Mississippi started to gradually shift more and more of its flow down the Atchafalaya River, along the path it used to take to the Gulf about 3000 years ago.
This diversion was accelerated in 1831 when steamboat captain Henry Miller Shreve dredged a new channel for the Mississippi River with his steam-powered snag boat Heliopolis. Shreve removed a massive meander bend, reducing navigation on the Mississippi River by 18 miles and shifting the main channel 6 miles east.
The old severed meander’s two arms formed what is now known as the Old River, which connects the Mississippi to the Atchafalaya. The removal of an ancient 40-mile-long log jam on the Atchafalaya in the 1840s, which allowed for the first time navigation on the river, increased the flow of water coming down the river from the Mississippi. (Source: Wunderground)
Image from Nola