The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Strike Three?

Will Louisiana endure yet another astonishing and enormous disaster? I sure hope not but the signs are that it may. This is the third strike even if you don't count the recent extremist politics of the south which are particularly unsuited for Louisiana's peculiar geography. A place that is in danger of physically falling apart and dropping into the ocean, you'd think, would have more enthusiasm for government.



Anyway, enough time for a postmortem if/when the Mississippi dies (long live the Atchafalaya)! I've seen several consistent versions of the story; as usual I am willing to take Jeff Masters as definitive.

America's Achilles' heel: the Mississippi River's Old River Control Structure

There's apparently a whole lot of industrial infrastructure between Baton Rouge and the Gulf that relies on a whole lot of water coming by. If the Big River reroutes itself above Baton Rouge, it will totally destroy the communities it rolls over and damage a lot of petroleum infrastructure. Masters points out that it will have a huge impact on the areas that lose access to the flow as well.

Louisiana was not a wealthy place before Katrina, not to mention not historically well-governed, and of course the present economic turmoil helps nobody. It's a bit mind-boggling to imagine the worst case scenario for the next few months. I hope it doesn't happen, but it might.

Update: David Brin, coincidentally the author of the quote of the week above, says to let the river go. Good luck with that one.

7 comments:

elvin said...

katrina displaced millions of people. the bp blowout has worsened the health of millions more. if the lower mississippi is oil rich then the big corporations dont want any individual land owners that have to be bought out. kick'em out, flood'em out, or what the heck, just shoot'em to pieces. its great sport.

susan said...

Had to look up "Five Feet High and Risin'"

While I like the straight one, this is quite effective:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qFLnwiP7jQ&feature=related

I'm almost wept out with natural disasters lately, but find this old stone still has some tears left.

JohnMashey said...

Great article by Masters, and I strongly recommend reading that great old essay by McPhee.

Steve Scolnik said...

CNBC reported this morning:
"There are ten refineries between baton rouge and new orleans that account for 13% of all u.s. daily gasoline production."
Colonial Pipeline also passes through this area, carrying 100 million gallons per day. It was damaged the last time Morganza was opened in 1973.
Video here:
http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000021844

William T said...

Presumably "someone" is doing the planning for Plan B - building the new river control infrastructure for when the "old river" become the "new river"...

Surely it isn't beyond the abilities of the Corps to maintain a navigable channel along the "old" Mississippi to service the "old" industrial plants along that channel? They'd only need to divert a percentage of the "new" river, and how much work is it to dredge 300 miles of canal? Hell, the canal's already built. And a few extra miles of pipelines to take fresh water to NO. Whey isn't it already built?

Now, where are those plans?

Oale said...

you just need a couple of channelers to find out how they solved this previously thousand years back...since everything is cycles and not AGW.

dhogaza said...

"There are ten refineries between baton rouge and new orleans that account for 13% of all u.s. daily gasoline production."

Many years ago I meandered north of New Orleans to explore the lower mississippi for a couple of days, and I was astonished at all of the chemical plants along the river. Some refineries, a bunch of other stuff this software dude could not identify by site.

We also meandered through the Atchafalaya basin, where I saw my first alligator and a whole bunch of bird species we don't get here in Oregon.

And a memory that sticks out ... an all-you-can-eat boiled seafood dinner (crawfish, blue crabs, and shrimp) in Houma.

Which, on a map I saw in the NY Times yesterday, is in the "flooding up to 10 feet" zone if the spillways are opened.

The shrimpers and other working class cajun and black people will have their homes sacrificed to save the industrial plants bordering the river and the cities.

In other relevant news, Ron Paul is calling for FEMA to be abolished ...