March 18, 2015

Flooding of the Mighty Mississippi and its Impact on Catahoula Parish, Introduction

Mississippi River at Natches, Mississippi - 2014

The Mississippi River is 2,350 miles long.  It begins as a stream in northern Minnesota before ending at the Gulf of Mexico.  Water from thirty-one states and two Canadian provinces drain into this mighty river.

Prior to the 15th Century, the Mississippi River and the Red River were separate rivers.  At some point after the 15th Century, the Mississippi River intercepted the Red River and the Red River became a tributary of the Mississippi. The Atchafalaya River was formed during this time and became a distributary of the Mississippi River.

Flooding of the Lower Mississippi River below the Red River Landing in Louisiana dates back to as early as 1734; possibly as early as 1543.

Over the years, attempts have been made to divert the Mississippi River channel with levee systems in order to protect cities and landowners from the impact of this great river's overflow.

From The Mississippi Levee System and the Old River Control Structure:
In 1717, the first manmade levee system was started by Bienville, the founder of the city of New Orleans.  The construction of the first levees, which reached only three feet in height, was completed in 1727.  After that, it was left to private interests to extend the levees.  By 1743, French landowners were required to build and maintain the levees along their riverfront property or forfeit their lands to the French crown.  However, it soon became obvious that these small levees, although augmented through the efforts of the settlers, were not enough protection against Mississippi flood waters.  During large floods, the river would frequently break through at weakened points in the levees, referred to as crevasses.  Many crevasses, such as the Mccarty Crevasse of 1816, took many lives and caused extensive property damage.
In 1840 the State of Louisiana removed a 30 mile long log jam at the Atchafalaya River headway. The removal of this log jam permanently connected the Mississippi River with the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi Atachafalya River Basin (MARB) is now the third largest basin in the world, after the Amazon and Congo basins.  It covers more than 1,245,000 square miles.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the management of the levee systems in 1879 when the Mississippi River Commission was created to execute a comprehensive flood control and navigation plan on the Lower Mississippi.

Though it does not border the Mississippi River, Catahoula Parish has seen its share of flooding due to the overflowing of the mighty river in past years.  Most of the overflow has been the result of northern ice melt during the months of Spring.  The northern ice melt has often been accompanied by heavy rainfall amounts both to the north as well as locally.

Often called 'backwater' by residents of Catahoula Parish, the overflow has caused the loss of life, land, homes, businesses and livestock.

In an attempt to document the history of flooding in Catahoula Parish caused by the overflow of the Mighty Mississippi River, occurrences will be presented in a series of posts which will include maps, newspaper articles, photographs and reports from the State Library of Louisiana and other collections from sources linked below each post.

This series will begin with 'The Great Overflow' which occurred in 1874 and continue through to more recent floods.

In his book titled, Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain shared the following:
"One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver--not aloud, but to himself--that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which has been sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."


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