From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography: “In 1940 General Harley B. Ferguson, the President of the Mississippi River Commission who had a hand in developing the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project that supplanted the levees-only policy that preceded the 1927 flood, wrote his History of the Improvement of the Lower Mississippi River for Flood Control and Navigation, 1932-1939, and described the natural course of a Lower Mississippi flood before the construction of artificial levees. When the Mississippi in flood broke through its natural levees and filled the rim swamps along the eastern wall between Cairo and Memphis and between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge, the water eventually returned to the river. When the river broke through its eastern natural levee south of Baton Rouge, it flowed east and south to the Gulf of Mexico, never to return to the river. When the river broke through its natural levees in the center of the alluvial valley between Memphis and Vicksburg, sometimes the water returned to the river. Other times, the flood crossed over and broke through the west bank, filling the Tensas and Boeuf basins and streamed to the Gulf via the Tensas, Boeuf, and Atchafalaya rivers, never to return to the Mississippi. If its western tributaries, north of the Arkansas, were not in flood when the Mississippi broke through its natural levee on the west, floodwater returned to the river via the mouths of the tributaries. However, if the tributaries were in flood, water backed up the tributaries–sometimes for several hundred miles, overtopped their natural levees, and streamed to the Gulf along the Tensas, Boeuf, and Atchafalaya rivers. The construction of the artificial levees on the Mississippi and its tributaries, forced all the water that might have drained down the Atchafalaya into the Mississippi.”
The West Atchafalaya Floodway, which heads at the Old River Control Structure, and the Morganza Floodway, which heads at the Morganza Structure, were created as a part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. They were designed to return floodwaters to the Atchafalaya. They were two one of four that would have sent floodwater to the Atchafalaya.
As we saw in the last week when the State of Missouri sued to prevent the Corps of Engineers from opening the New Madrid Floodway at Birds’ Point, no one wants to turn valuable farmland over to the Mississippi when it floods. The mainline levee south of Cairo makes human habitation in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley possible. Without them Helena, Arkansas, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenville, and other towns and cities along the river in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana would flood annually. Memphis, Vicksburg, and Natchez would fair better, because they occupied higher ground. Though we have seen this week that low lying areas in all three cities are flooded. Agriculture in a levee-free world would not be impossible, but it would be more difficult than now with the levees protecting vast fields of cotton, soybeans, and rice.
General Edgar Jadwin, who designed the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, planned two floodways that would have carried floodwater to the Atchafalaya through valuable farmland in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. The first, the Boeuf Floodway, was “a huge floodway that would run from the mouth of the Arkansas 155 miles south through southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. It would carry floodwater to the Gulf through the Boeuf Basin and the Atchafalaya. It would duplicate flooding that had escaped the Mississippi regularly along Cypress Creek before the Corps closed the mouth of the Creek, located fifteen miles south of the Arkansas. The folks in Arkansas and Louisiana, who had demanded that Cypress Creek be closed in 1921, demanded that it stay closed in 1928. In 1936 Congress authorized the Eudora Floodway which would deliver floodwater to the Gulf through the Tensas Basin in northern Louisiana to the Atchafalaya, but that was also nixed.” Too much valuable farmland would be flooded.