July 5th, 2011
Satellite image of sediment plumes coming from the flooded Mississippi River, taken on May 17, 2011. Photo courtesy of NASA.Due to heavy rains and snow melt from North Dakota to Minnesota to New York, we have seen record-setting flood levels throughout the Lower Mississippi River Basin. This flooding has pushed the levee system to its limits, but it seems that the system has done what it is supposed to do. Part of utilizing the Mississippi River Levee system has meant the opening of three floodways: the Bird’s Point Floodway in Missouri, the Morganza Floodway in Louisiana, and the Bonnet Carré Spillway, also in Louisiana. The opening of these floodways has inundated farm land and residential property, but relieved the pressure of the floods on some urban centers, including Cairo, IL, Baton Rouge, LA and New Orleans.
Regretfully, the levee system that has protected many communities from Mississippi River flooding will likely exacerbate this year’s Dead Zone in the Gulf. Before the levees were built, when the River flooded routinely, it would spill into its floodplains and surrounding wetlands. These floodplains would slow the water down, help filter out pollutants, and store the floodwater. Now with these levees, the channel acts as a syringe, injecting the Mississippi—and the pollutants it contains—straight into the Gulf. Very simply, more pollution (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) equals a bigger Dead Zone.
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