The rivers have crested at Paducah and at Memphis, so the news media have packed up in those cities and have moved down river for the next inane report with the weather guy in hip waders standing in deep water.
Okay! It’s a flood. We get it!
As the high waters move south, USATODAY headed north to Missouri to get local reactions to the demolition of a section of Birds Point Levee, which effectively saved the town of Cairo, IL, but flooded 130,000 acres of prime Missouri farmland.
First, a little boring history.
The spillway was established by the Army Corp of Engineers following the great flood of 1927. By design, should the river reach 61 feet at Cairo, the levee would be blown and the water would be safely diverted. Another levee at New Madrid would be blown to release the water back into the Mississippi River farther down stream.
Originally, the levees were designed to erode with the rising water. But in 1937, the levee failed to erode and the COE had to use dynamite to open up the spillway. In 1983, pipes were laid within the levee, into which liquid explosives could be pumped and detonated.
This is what happened on May 2, 2011, as the river at Cairo was measured at 61.5 feet and rising.
Breaking the levee was met with considerable resistance, from the farmers who lived on and worked the land and from the Missouri state legislature. Some even tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court involved.
And in the process, some pretty mean things were said, not the least of which came from the Speaker of the House in the Missouri legislature. He argued in favor of letting Cairo flood, publicly saying, “Have you seen Cairo recently?”
Cairo (pronounced KAY-row) was once a booming little river port with a population of 15,000. Over the last 90 years, however, the town has declined to a population of around 2,800 – mostly poor, mostly black.
The representative photo used on Wikipedia is labeled, “Abandoned downtown Cairo”.
But a U.S. District Judge, siding with the small town and noting the broad discretion given to the COE concerning the operation of such spillways in a 1984 ruling, declared that the levee could be broken and the Missouri farmland flooded.
Now, back to the present.
Farmers who lived and worked in the COE-designated spillway returned to their flooded lands earlier this week, and USATODAY was there to mine their “feelings”.
Now, the crew of the Banana Winds have come up with a unique hypothesis about such. We suspect that news reporters are actually alien beings from another planet who subsist entirely on the emotions of humans.
Before dismissing this as foolishness, think about it: following a report on a plane crash that kills everyone on board, the reporters immediately turn to grieving family members and ask, “How does this make you feel?”
When a home burns down and small children and pets die in the fire, the reporters immediately turn to family members and neighbors and ask, “How does this make you feel?”
Coincidence? I think not.
I’ll be watching you, Mike Matthews!
And, as expected, the Missouri farmers are upset… distraught… angry.
One farmer was quoted as saying, “In my lifetime, I have never suffered like this."
Then you have been truly blessed up to this point, my friend.
Another griped, “I don’t want to lose my way of life, and they threatened that. They’re messing with it. It actually just makes me angry more than anything.”
And when Americans get angry, they sue. In fact, a lawsuit has already been filed in a federal court seeking “unspecified damages”.
A small part of my heart goes out to them.
But only a small part.
A very small part.
Here’s my thinking on this.
Yes, you know I'm going to give my opinion.
And yet you are still reading!
The New Madrid Floodway Project, as it is officially known, was initiated after the 1927 flood. The 130,000 acres within the spillway have been designated as such for some 80 years now. The people who farm the land, and who were foolish enough to build houses within a known, designated COE spillway, knew that there was always a chance the land would be flooded.
But who would have ever suspected that a 100-year flood would strike in year #74?
I suspect the folks who survived the 1927 flood were somewhat surprised when the next 100-year flood hit only 10 years later!
- Paducah 1937 -
So, these farmers in Missouri are gamblers. They went all in, betting the house and the farm against the possibility of another major flood.
And they lost.
I suppose those who bet on PANTS ON FIRE at last week’s Kentucky Derby would like to have their money back too. Coming off at 20-to-1, with female jockey Anna Napravnik in the saddle, I thought he was a sure thing.
But when you gamble and lose, you don’t get your money back. It’s true in horse racing, it’s true in cards, it’s true in dice.
And it’s true in farming.
To the folks who lived in the spillway, I’m sorry. You gambled and lost. You don’t get to sue. Consider it an expensive lesson.