Louisiana's Awful Choice: Flood Cities or Drown Farms?

One option could devastate New Orleans; the other would destroy farmland
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2011 8:57 AM CDT
The height of the Mississippi River is gauged as water from the rising river is released through the Bonnet Carre Spillway May 9, 2011 in Norco, Louisiana.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – In Louisiana, a terrible choice: Frantically sandbag the levees in an attempt to prevent a flood in New Orleans and Baton Rouge that could be greater than Katrina in some areas—or open a relief valve and purposely flood 200 miles of farmland, potentially destroying the livelihoods of many Louisiana farmers and fishermen? If the Army Corps of Engineers chooses to open the Morganza Spillway, it will be only the second time the relief valve has been used since it was completed 57 years ago, the Washington Post reports.

The historically high Mississippi River has flooded 3 million acres in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi and now threatens the corridor running between the two largest Louisiana cities, where about a million people live. But if the spillway is opened, a deluge of water greater than Niagara Falls would drown crops, crawfish hatcheries, and perhaps two small cities; insurance would not cover the damage to farms since it would not be considered a natural disaster. The head of the corps in New Orleans has already requested that the spillway be opened and Gov. Bobby Jindal has advised residents in its path to prepare for evacuation. A final decision is expected between today and Saturday. (Read more Mississippi River stories.)

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