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River Commission acknowledges batture flooding problem south of Natchez

ALL ABOARD: The Mississippi River Commission held a meeting Wednesday on the M.V. Mississippi docked in Vicksburg. Photo by Steve Wilson

VICKSBURG — Two members of the Mississippi River Commission acknowledged, for the first time, a serious flooding problem in batture land south of Natchez at their meeting Wednesday.

The batture is alluvial land between the levees.

"We have a lot of money (supplemental appropriations) to fix problems," said Major Gen. Richard Kaiser, the commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the president of the commission. "We've heard from many people who've been coming up for years and it's starting to get fixed. I'd reiterate, despite your frustration, to keep coming so we can hear your voice and take your concerns to Congress.

"We also saw, whether if you're in the Delta or in the batture land, that there's more problems than we have money. The monies we've received will buy down those problems so we can get to the next area. We can figure out what's happening in these troubled areas."

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Rear Adm. Shepard Smith said in his post-meeting comments that he recognized that flooding can have a dire impact on agriculture. He said farmers are one of the primary stakeholders for the Mississippi Rivers and Tributary Project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' massive plan to prevent flooding and keep the river navigable with levees and other structures.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, R.D. James, paid a visit to the meeting. James was a longtime member of the MRC after being appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and being reappointed to new nine-year terms by three different presidents.

He now supervises the Corps' civil engineering operations from his office in Washington, D.C. and is managing $24 billion in funds this year, the equivalent of four annual USACE budgets, thanks to supplemental appropriations in the wake of several hurricanes and flooding events. He said that he wants to get the Corps moving on important projects and will not accept delays.

"One idea I have put out to all of the districts is that if I catch you rolling around in the process and not executing these funds, I will take your funds to move them to another district that will execute the funds," James said. "This is not the time to be playing around in our districts and not doing our work daily and moving forward."

The MRC is conducting its annual low-water inspection tour on the river on the M.V. Mississippi that concluded Friday. The MRC also made stops in Caruthersville, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee and Morgan City Louisiana.

These comments by MRC members show that they're listening to critics who say that the river is flooding excessively behind the Old River Control Structure located southwest of Natchez near Angola, Louisiana.

The ORCC manages the flow between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers and allows 23 percent of the Mississippi's flow into the Atchafalaya, which would capture the flow from the Mississippi River if not for the ORCC.

The solution, critics say, is to divert more of the amount of flow from the Mississippi River down the Atchafalaya River from the ORCC during floods to alleviate the bottleneck.

A study released in April by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute showed that flood events on the river have worsened because of efforts — primarily by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — to straighten, channelize and restrict the river with artificial levees.

Even more frightening was the research by LSU hydrology professor Yi-Jun Xu, who suggests that the Mississippi River could alter its course to the nearby Atchafalaya River with disastrous results.

Xu told the New Orleans Advocate increased silt deposits south of the ORCC, which have risen 30 feet in only the last 20 years, are making it harder for flow to reach the Gulf from Mississippi River and are making it more likely that a catastrophic flood like the ones in 1973 or 2011 could make the river jump to a new course.

Xu's research is more evidence that flooding events above the ORCC are increasing in frequency and severity.

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