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|Mother Nature speaks again|
Those of us who grew up in the Louisiana Delta are used to seeing the Mississippi River rise and fall as the seasons change. High water in the spring is not a new phenomenon.
However, the levels the Mississippi River is expected to reach later this month at Vicksburg and at Vidalia are out of the ordinary. After all, when the Mississippi crests at 65 feet at Vidalia on May 22 or May 23 – as the National Weather Service predicts – it will surpass the high-level mark of 58.04 feet. That was the level of the Mississippi in 1937 when much of Louisiana went under water.
Flood stage at Vidalia is 48 feet.
When May 20 rolls around the Mississippi will crest at 57.5 feet at Vicksburg. Flood stage at Vicksburg is 43 feet.
To put it bluntly, the Mississippi River will reach all-time new highs later this month. With a little luck and by the grace of God, we will not find ourselves hip deep in water from north of Lake Providence to Monroe to below Shaw in Concordia Parish and beyond.
Say a prayer or two and keep your fingers crossed.
Let us recall that the Fifth District Levee Board is responsible for maintaining the mainline Mississippi River levee from 10 miles into Avoyelles Parish, north through Concordia Parish and onward to the Arkansas/Louisiana border in East Carroll Parish. That's 257 miles of levee that fall under the levee board's jurisdiction.
The levee board collects a 3.86-mill property tax in Concordia, Tensas, Madison and East Carroll parishes to help pay for levee maintenance. The tax generates roughly $1.1 million annually. The levee board must rely on appropriations from the state to make up the difference financially in maintaining the mainline levee from Avoyelles through East Carroll.
Last year, the Legislature appropriated a mere $25,000 to the levee board for levee maintenance. The year before that, the Legislature turned over $150,000.
Surprisingly, the president of the Fifth District Levee Board, Reynold Minsky, says the $150,000 the Legislature appropriated for levee maintenance two years ago was sufficient funding. For levee maintenance for one year, that is. Coupled with the funding the levee board collects from the property tax it levies, the board can make do with $150,000 in state appropriations each year, according to Minsky.
The big problem for the mainline levee concerns federal funding, or the lack thereof, Minsky says.
To be more specific, Minsky says the Congress doesn't appropriate enough money for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to properly meet its responsibilities of upgrading and building up levees from north of St. Louis to the mouth of the Mississippi south of New Orleans. The Corps also is responsible for dredge work along the river, and it's the Corps's responsibility to maintain locks and dams along the Mississippi as well.
This year, the Congress appropriated some $10 million for the Corps's Vicksburg division. Last year, the Congress gave the Vicksburg division $19 million. The Vicksburg division is charged with meeting the aforementioned responsibilities from north of St. Louis to the mouth of the river.
According to Minsky, the Corps has a laundry list of $525 million in work it needs to tackle along the river. The list of work that needs to be done includes everything from building up levees, dredging waterways and operating and repairing locks and dams. It's a tall order, and the Corps doesn't have the money to do it.
It's possible the high levels the Mississippi will reach later this month will force the Congress to pay closer attention to the busiest river in the world and realize millions of Americans are directly impacted by the web and flow of the river. Let's not forget about the economic impact the river has on literally every aspect of the U.S. economy.
It's possible the Congress will pay closer attention but not likely.
In the meantime, let's hope Minsky is correct when he says the mainline levee should hold the Mississippi in check when high water arrives in earnest later this month. Cautiously optimistic would be a good description of Minsky these days. Cautiously optimistic.
Regardless of what transpires over the next month or so, the Mississippi's recent surge should serve as a reminder once again that mankind cannot control Mother Nature in her entirety. Never has, never will.