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Conflicting Demands: Levees and Wetlands

 

Lima Slough, Lima Lake Drainage District, Adams County, Illinois

Lima Slough, Lima Lake Drainage District, Adams County, Illinois

The Flood of 2008  breached several agricultural levees along the Upper Mississippi in Henderson, Hancock, and Adams Counties in Illinois. 

The farmers who till the 4-mile-wide floodplain here were wiped out for the summer. The village of Meyer, right on the Mississippi, saw its population reduced from 40 people to 10. The flood caused $80 million dollars in damages to the levee, to buildings,  to the land, and to the loss of crops. The levee district had to remove sand from the fields at the point of a levee break.

The farmers would like to see their 50-year agricultural levee raised to a 500-year urban levee, like that which protects parts of St. Louis. Building the levee would cost $41 million.

 

Falgout Marsh, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Falgout Marsh, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Meanwhile, down in the Louisiana wetlands, the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes are observing the official beginning of the 2009 hurricane season.

 

Should a hurricane flood the wetlands this summer it will wipe out more wetlands, which are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 38 minutes.

The two million people, who fled the parishes ahead of Hurricane Gustav last year, expressed relief that their wetlands protected their homes and businesses from flooding, only to see Hurricane Ike, which missed Louisiana by 250 miles, create worse flooding than Hurricane Rita had in 2005.

This spring Gov. Bobby Jindal set aside $300 million from Louisiana’s budget surplus for coastal restoration and then protected it from the legislature, which wanted to devote some of the money to highways.

The 1998 estimate of serious wetland restoration along the Louisiana coast came to $14 billion. The latest estimate of the cost of the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection levee for Terrebonne Parish is $10.7 billion. The Corps of Engineers designed it to be a leaky levee, but scientists question whether a levee built across wetlands will destroy more marshes than it protects.

The Mississippi and the Louisiana wetlands are all of a piece, both in terms of the ecosystem and in terms of the conflicting demands for money to protect cities and livelihoods.

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