Paul Hudson in TIME Magazine on the ''record-breaking'' Mississippi Floods
Associate Professor of Physical Geography Paul Hudson at Leiden University College was interviewed by TIME Magazine on the Mississippi floods that have been harassing the United States this year.
Swamping Homes and Cropland
The Missouri, the Ohio; the Red, the Illinois, the Arkansas; the Pecatonica, the Poteau, the Big Sioux – across the U.S., rivers have swollen this year, swamping homes and cropland, costing farmers billions of dollars. Running through more than a million square miles of the heart of the United States – 40% of its land area – 100,000 waterways eventually drain into the Mississippi. Over 30 million people live near the Mississippi or one of its tributaries. A key point about this particalur flood it its duration - the Mississippi River was flooded for over 200 days last month - rather than only the height of the flood.
Previous floods in 1927, killed as many as 500 people in the South. The federal government decided that the region should be protected from floods and tasked the Army Corps with the design and construction of the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project (MR&T) to seize control of the Mississippi river. The MR&T has some similarities with the Dutch ''Delta Works''. The MR&T Project is in many ways a masterwork; LUC's Paul Hudson calls it ''among the largest and most ambitious engineering feats on earth.''
The Unpredictability of Man-made Flood-control Structures
Hudson argues that any attempt to tame a river is a trial-and-error operation. Infrastructure is built on a much faster scale than a river's sedimentary processes. Once engineering is installed, the river changes - depositing new mud here, eroding banks there - and old calculations go out the window. ''You're kind of constantly keeping up with these unintended consequences and it doesn't help that much of the MR&T was designed before scientists fully understood the science of this river's flow.'' says Hudson who was born and raised in the rich cultural landscape of the American Deep South. During fieldwork in 2017, instruments were installed in the floodplain - upstream of New Orleans and the Old River Control Structure - to monitor and record the floodwaters and sedimentation. In October Hudson is going back to retrieve the data loggers, with support from US federal agencies and The Nature Conservancy, because of the interests in the environmental dimensions of these flood events.
Mississippi River & Tributaries Project (MR&T) is so vast that it can be hard to comprehend as a single object: it includes concrete floodwalls in New Orleans and Cairo and Caruthersville, Mo.; pumping stations that drain rainwater trapped behind these walls; and nearly 3,500 miles of levees along the river and its tributaries. A fleet of towboats and barges, outfitted with cranes and sleeping quarters for a crew of 200, descends the river each year, paving its bends with concrete to halt erosion.