River Talk

Recently in River Floods Category

The Great Mississippi River Flood of 2011 crested at Memphis in the wee hours Monday night-Tuesday morning and has begun to recede.  Thousands of people are in shelters, and cleanup/restoration will likely take months.  A good single source of information from the local level can be found at MemphisFlood.com.

The next big question is whether or not the Corps of Engineers will open the Morganza Spillway. Located upstream from Baton Rouge, the Morganza gates, if opened (for only the second time ever) would relieve pressure on the Old River Control Structure as well as on Baton Rouge and New Orleans themselves.  See this story from NOLA.com on the anticipated impacts to New Orleans if Morganza is NOT opened.  NOLA.com is a good source for flood information as the crest moves south.

What can you continue to expect from us?  Regular updates on what we've gathered from Twitter, Google Alerts, and other sources will be posted to Facebook at www.facebook.com/RiverLifeUMN.  We will also, provide updates on key developments to this blog every couple of days, and will notify you about updates to our River Atlas that will allow you to pinpoint where all of the action is.  And, as I can find time, I'll pass along reflective analyses of some emerging trends in the flood discussion that are pointing us in longer term directions.

I think there's no question that this flood season, like the 1993 floods that devastated so much of the Midwest and middle sections of the Mississippi, will shape policy, planning, and research decisions for years to come.  Our suite of digital platforms, we hope, will allow you early "listens"to those discussions and the chance to join in.
Let's suppose you've been under a rock for the past week (or holed up in studio finishing those end-of-semester projects like my students have been!).

"What?"  You say, "the Mississippi is flooding?"  Wasn't that over weeks ago?

Maybe kinda sorta over up here, but where do you think all that water went?  And what do you think has happened when that flood from the Upper Miss hit an area of the country that has seen torrential rains all spring?

Short answer:  "epic" floods.  Possibly historic record floods.  Possibly catastrophic floods.

We're covering this unfolding story, which is putting the Big River in the news across the country and around the world, at www.facebook.com/RiverLifeUMN and @RiverLifeUMN on Twitter.

And if you're not a Facebooker or a tweeter, then here are three "starter articles" for you.  We'll have a lot more to offer in the days and weeks ahead, but if you want to catch up quickly, here are the "Cliff's Notes." (There--I've aged myself again--do they even have Cliff's Notes any more?  Someone write and let me know, ok?)

Anne Jefferson, a hydrologist at UNC-Charlotte writes a blog "Highly Allochthonous" on "News and Commentary from the World of Geology and Earth Science.  And no, I don't know what "allochthonous" means, although I did have someone tell me once.  Her post from May 8 is perhaps the best succinct series of links and explanations I've seen.  She points readers to other top-quality sources, plenty of visual explanations, and offers it all in clear, understandable language.  Great stuff and a wonderful starting point!

Graphic artist Michael Bay has crafted a clearly understandable vision of the Mississippi Delta and its major waterways, based on early project engineering and modelling developed by the Corps of Engineers half a century ago.  He also has excellent links and, perhaps not surprisingly, an eclectic set of comments.

In the coming weeks, we'll hear a lot about "Old River Control Structure" and how it serves (we hope) to keep the lower Mississippi in its present channel and not being captured by the Atchafalaya, which would have, then, most of the river's flow bypassing Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

That would be a catastrophic outcome to these floods, and a detailed explanation of how the Old River Control Structure works, how the hydrology in the region has changed over time, and why it's necessary today can be found on the web site of the America's Wetland Foundation.  Go here for good visual images and detailed explanation.

Three articles to get you started; more on our Facebook page, and lots more to follow.  By any measure, these are historic floods; stick with us as we try our best to bring you the clearest, most reliable information and analysis.

I hope you'll forgive me if this is repetitious, but after all, it's the end of the school year with all of the attendant student-oriented work, plus the flood stories are gaining momentum (much like the flood itself, as it rolls toward Memphis).

The River Life Program's Facebook and Twitter feeds, both accessible by searching for us at RiverLifeUMN are both sources of information that our scanning and web research has led us to and that we think has some enduring value and interest.  This blog is more reflective, more "authored" than the Facebook entries, which likely have just a link and a couple of sentences about why we think the link has value.  Twitter, of course, is even less mediated.  On the other hand, Twitter is much more "polyvocal;"  reading this afternoon's calls for volunteers to sandbag in Memphis (where they DON'T have to do this every year!) gave a real sense of immediacy to the emerging crisis in the Delta.

The floods this year are likely to be events talked about years, if not decades, hence.  It used to be said that newspapers (remember those?) were the "rough drafts of history."  There are certainly rough drafts of history being written hourly now; find them on Twitter by following us at @RiverLifeUMN, or search on Twitter (search.twitter.com" for items under topics such as #memflood or #msriver.

And, as always, share what you find!
As the flood crest for the lower Mississippi continues to roll south, and predictions emerge that this year's high water will be "a lot nastier" than the legendary 1927 flood, River Talk will post short pieces with links to some of the more thoughtful, informative, or extensive coverage.  Our analysis of these pieces will be short, trusting that our readers will read and discern for themselves what they're most interested in.

Coverage in Irish Weather Online includes good video capturing individuals' reactions to the flood and satellite imagery of the Birds Point/New Madrid Floodway before and after this week's intentional levee breach.

An article in Reuters.com focuses on the expected impact in Memphis, the next large city in the flood's path.

The potential impact of the flood on the Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone." is part of recent coverage by the Wall Street Journal online edition.  Of particular concern is the water that spilled across 130,000 acres of farmland after the Birds Point/New Madrid Floodway was activated earlier this week.

Up here at the northern end of the Mississippi River basin, our flooding stories have moved from the urgencies of inundated homes, closed roadways, and disrupted lives to questions of prevention, preparation, and policy and planning changes necessary to accommodate living with rivers.

Not so downstream.  In the middle and lower Mississippi, record-breaking rainfall combined with "our" floodwaters coming into their areas have led to one of the worst flood years in history.  Comparisons to the apocalyptic floods of 1927 and 1937 are beginning to be voiced.  The Corps of Engineers has dynamited a levee in Missouri and is indicating that more use of diversion floodways could follow.

Forbes.com has a very nice thorough summary of some of the key issues, and The Nature Conservancy's Cool Green Science blog has an article also worth your attention.  

And the River Life Facebook page is also regularly updated with materials that is both immediate and has what we see as lasting value.  Take a look.  And feel free to let us know what we're missing and/or what you'd like to see us address.
Up here near the head of the watershed for the Mississippi, we've been focused for a month on our snowmelt-induced flooding.

But all that water has to go somewhere, i.e. downstream, and when that extra volume is combined with the recurring rains that the midsection of the country has suffered recently, there's a different kind of disaster in the making.

There's a news story out today about conflict between the Corps of Engineers and the State of Missouri concerning the best approach to relieving strained levees that may give way at any point.  This is not a new conflict; John Barry's account of the 1927 delta flood Rising Tide plays up just such a confrontation around New Orleans.

But there maybe needs to be a new point in the policy debate:  What are the right processes to decide on the appropriate course of action when floods come?  We really ought not be surprised any more, should we?  And by now we know that flood preparation ought to be more than just a matter of sandbags and bigger walls.


Week in Review: Floods

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It's been a big week for flooding and flood coverage in the Upper Midwest.  Here's a quick recap and prognosis.

Followers of the blog will remember that a week ago we rolled out our multi-platform "Flood Forum" as an effort to serve as a gathering place for good flood-related information and diverse voices.  The University sent out a press release on our work and a number of local media outlets picked up the story.  We appreciate the coverage and assistance in spreading the word!  

Our main web page has been updated twice with the addition of some really stellar data sources and community voices.  Our Facebook and Twitter pages have had very active weeks; check them out, follow us on Twitter, and "like" the Facebok page to pick up on stunning video and aerial photo sets of the flooding.

Our student contributors have been great:  reading hard to find materials and posting thought-provoking questions about what they've found.  We have 13 participating now and fully expect that number to grow substantially.

As for the floods themselves, St. Paul weathered the first crest on Wednesday and communities downstream are still preparing for that wave.  Cold weather has helped keep flood crests relatively low, but is likely to extend the season for some weeks yet.  And the Red River, which flows north out of the western Minnesota prairies, hasn't really begun to thaw yet.  Heavy snowpack across that part of the region means that waters in Fargo and Grand Forks are likely to be quite high.  Predictions for rain in the Twin Cities early in the week won't help matters on the Mississippi, either.

We're off to a strong start, but there's more to do!  Just covering events (and keeping up with students!) is a full time job.  We intend to keep revising and updating the web site, particularly with flood-related news from outside the region, and will try to spend some time responding to some of the more technical inquiries that have come our way.
Stay tuned.  And be sure to let us know how we can provide good information for you.  We appreciate comments and questions!

Using Up More of my 15 Minutes

Flooding is the big river story around here and River Life is not alone in devoting substantial attention to the issue.  This week, the local NBC affiliate, KARE-11, had a producer in my class and then interviewed me for a story that ran this morning (EARLY this morning!).  The piece is really edited together well, as you can see here.

I was on the news earlier when the University Press published a book about the aftermath of another river disaster, the collapse of the I-35W bridge in 2007.  It would be great to get coverage for non-disasters!

Speaking of flood coverage, we have several students from my class posting to Twitter with their observations, photos, and links/references.  The offer to join the conversation extends beyond students!  Go to our Flood Forum page to learn how to follow us and participate.

And I promise not to grade your posts!
Predictions across the Upper Midwest are calling for perhaps-record floods in all of our rivers.  What impacts are the floods having, and what might be the long term effects of the rising waters?  What do government agencies and river organizations think?  What are the experiences of local citizens as well as policy makers?
The University of Minnesota's River Life Partnership has put together a multi-platform digital flood forum, where we are gathering information, diverse perspectives, and considerations from across the state and region.

Our Flood Forum page provides key links and an overview of our programs:

Follow River Life on Facebook and Twitter, and share your thoughts, photographs, and links to more information.
Read the River Talk blog for more analytical, thought-provoking commentaries.
Follow the links to sites maintained by government agencies, reliable news organizations, and academic/educational institutions as they have all initiated their own flood coverage.
Check the River Atlas to see historic photographs, documents, and other interesting stuff.

We intend for these platforms to be as interactive as possible, so email us at rlp@umn.edu to make suggestions, add comments, and recommend additional sources and leads.  If you would, please do forward this message to others who would be interested as well.  And of course, join the discussions through the River Life Facebook and Twitter connections.

Since so many people are beginning to put the wheels in motion to prepare for anticipated near-record spring flooding, it's worth thinking more about the 1965 flood, which is the highest on record.

This video, posted by Jim Rossman from Elk River Minnesota, shows home video of the Mississippi between Otsego and Elk River, approximately River Mile 885, upstream from Minneapolis.  The film was taken by the late William Klemz, and uploaded courtesy of his son Brian Klemz.  In addition to the fascinating footage, Jim Rossman's information note provides good context and background for the event.

Get your cameras ready, folks; there's liable to be powerful footage to be captured this spring.  Send us your links and we'll try to post a record of the "Flood of 2011."

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.