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New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

How many times do we have to petition to stop the closing of the New Madrid Floodway? Once again its closure in on the agenda. Find the petition here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7288/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23677.

Please sign.

If you do a search for New Madrid Floodway in the search box, you will find all my postings on this subject.

In the meantime read this from 2013 if you want to understand how the floodway came about, its importance for flood control on the Lower Mississippi, and importance to places like Ten Mile Pond and Big Oak Tree State Park.

It’s baaaack: The closure of the foot of the New Madrid Floodway is back on the agenda of folks who farm the floodway and see there land flooded every year the Mississippi Floods. If you remember, two years ago the floodway was opened to provide extra storage capacity for the flooded Mississippi. But every time the river floods water backs up into the floodway at its foot.

It seems that Senator Roy Blunt is pressuring the Obama Administration to go forward with the closure of the floodway by putting a hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

I cut the following essay from The Mississippi, because the issue had been resolved in 2007 when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled. It had not. Soon after the Memphis District of the US Army Corps of Engineers began working to satisfy the court’s objections to the closure of the floodway. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others who object to the project or no more satisfied with it as it stands now than they were when the judge ruled in 2007. These things never go away. This link will help you understand where the project stands now.

The following is the full story as it stood in 2007:

The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project

In 1928 when General Edgar Jadwin and the Corps of Engineers designed the New Madrid Floodway, the agency left a 1,500-foot gap at the foot of the setback levee for the release of floodwater and installed a fuse plug levee at Birds Point at its head. The designers understood that the lower third would become a backwater storage area. To compensate landowners for the use of their land, the agency purchased flood easements in the upper two-thirds. That wasn’t necessary in the lower third, which would flood with the river every time. It was the floodway’s role as a backwater storage area that created an uproar at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when the Crops published its plan for the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project, which promised to eliminate backwater flooding in the New Madrid Floodway.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 authorized the dredging of St. Johns Bayou for flood control, the St. Johns Bayou Pump Station, which included a gated culvert across the foot of the bayou, and the New Madrid Pump Station and a gated culvert set in the 1,500-gap in the setback levee of the New Madrid Floodway. St. Johns Bayou Basin is located between the setback levee and Sikeston Ridge. The gated culverts would halt backwater flooding from the river, but assure interior flooding in both St. Johns Bayou basin, located between the setback levee and Sikeston River, and in the New Madrid Floodway. The pumps would clear water ponding behind the closed culverts. The culvert across St. Johns Bayou was built. In 1997 the Memphis District of the Corps of Engineers filed its intent to prepare and environmental impact study of the project.

Environmentalists, river conservationists, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and taxpayer watchdogs: all objected. They balked at closing the last connection the Mississippi had to its floodplain in Missouri, at the $65 million cost, at the damage that would be done to Big Oak Tree State Park, at the loss of spawning habitat for fishes and wintering places for waterfowl, to the channelizing of St. Johns Bayou and other drainage ditches. They complained that the project would benefit a handful of big landowners. They noted that East Prairie in the St. Johns Bayou Basin would continue to flood due to runoff from roofs and parking lots. They encouraged the Corps to find non-structural solutions to the flooding problems, including a ring levee around East Prairie.

The East Prairie Enterprise Community, the local sponsor of the project, and other residents of Swampeast, weren’t interested in environmentalists’ concerns. East Prairie residents complained that a ring levee would cut them off from the rest of the world. Farmers gave little support to the Wetland Reserve Program. They had rejected a 1993 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer to purchase land in the St. Johns Bayou basin for a national wildlife refuge at fair market value. Nor were they interested in converting their lands from crops to timber.

In September 2000 the Memphis District sought to please both the environmentalists and the residents of Mississippi County when it revised its plan. The floodgate and the pumps would stay, but the following changes would be made: the Corps would dredge only the St. Johns Bayou-St. James Bayou drainage ditch, reduce its width from 200 feet to 120 feet, and excavate only one side to avoid cutting into forests. The engineers would not dredge the upper 3.7 miles of St. James Bayou Ditch to avoid the habitat of the golden topminnow, a state endangered fish; would avoid mussel beds or relocate them and set up a ten-year monitoring program. They would set rock structures in the channels to enhance fish habitat; move water in and out of the lower reaches of the floodway and the basin for winter and early spring waterfowl and to allow spawning fish to pass to and from the river; purchase conservation easements on 765 acres of herbaceous land along the channel to replace shorebird habitat; reforest 9,557 acres of seasonally flooded cropland. At Big Oak Tree State Park they would build a control structure to regulate water in its swamps–enough for the cypress, but not too much for the oaks.

Big Oak Tree State Park

The Corps published essentially the same plan in June 2002, but added the construction of the wildlife corridor between Big Oak Tree Park and the Ten Mile Pond conservation area and riparian buffers along sixty-four miles of streams and drainage channels to filter water flowing to Big Oak Tree. Most important, the engineers made the commitment to the restoration of Big Oak Tree, purchasing and reforesting 1,800 acres surrounding the park and restoring the park’s hydrologic connection to the Mississippi with water control structures in the park, a canal with gated culverts set in the mainline levee to allow water to flow between the park and the river. The cost of the new plan came to $85 million dollars and still did not satisfy the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the owner of Big Oak Tree Park.

In 2004 the Memphis District issued a contract for the construction of the New Madrid closure and the pump, but stopped work on the project when National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund filed suit in Federal Court, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.

In December 2005 the Corps published a second Revised Supplemental Environmental Impact that would allow fish to spawn in the sumps behind the culverts and would reestablish the hydrological connection between Big Oak Tree and St. James Bayou through a culvert in the levee.

The Corps pointed out repeatedly that the success of the project depended on finding people willing to sell their land for mitigation to add 1,800 acres to Big Oak Tree State Park or the addition 1037 acres needed for the wildlife corridor and riparian buffers.

In the fall of 2006 the Corps of Engineers started work on the project, even after being told they would likely lose the Federal suit filed two years earlier. The suit came to fruition in September 2007, when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled.

 

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Introducing 1 Mississippi: A web site promoting interest on the Mississippi

East Channel of the Upper Mississippi in Pool 10 at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

The McKnight Foundation and the Walton Family Foundations and a network of other organizations with interests in the Mississippi River have started a campaign to “the land, water, and people of America’s greatest watershed.”

1 Mississippi encourages those who know and love the Mississippi River and its wetlands to sign up and become River Citizens. It’s free, and in signing up you make your first declaration of what you will do for the river.

If you are at loose ends about what you can do for the river, 1 Mississippi has seven suggestions, eight actually:

1. Sign up and become a river citizen;

2. Volunteer on the river: clean up, plant trees, engage in other restoration work such as grass planting on barrier islands in Louisiana:

Low water at Duck Chute at the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, between the west bank and Duck Island

3. Get to know the river: take short canoe trips on the river, such as through the islands at the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri; play in the festivals along the river; hike through its wildlife refuges; visit its nature centers.

Timablier Island at the Gulf of Mexico

4 and 5. Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use: When we phosphorous-based fertilize and use weed killers on our lawns, what the grass doesn’t use washes into our sewers and ultimately into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, where the fertilizers nourish algae, which creates low oxygen conditions and a Dead Zone, which upsets the migration of fish and shrimp from their nurseries in Louisiana’s wetlands to the gulf; fertilizers also nourish algae behind the dams on the Upper Mississippi, creating low oxygen conditions there. Use phosphorous-free fertilizers on your lawn, or turn your lawn over to ground cover–ivy, no mowing.

6. Support sustainable agriculture: This is way harder than using less fertilizer on your lawn, because farmers resist using less fertilizer on their fields of corn and soybeans. More and more fertilizers have washed off Midwest farm fields, starting with the Flood of 1993 to the Flood of 2011, nourishing a larger and larger Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. One way you can support sustainable agriculture is to become a Locavor and buy your fruits and veggies at local farmers’ markets, or go to the farm itself, buy your produce, and get to know the farmer.

7. Protect wetlands: By protecting wetlands from development, we can reduce the impact of floods, because wetlands act like storage units for floodwater.

8. Though it’s not called 8: Get to know your elected representatives–local, state, and national. Get to know their voting records. Get to know the issues before them and let them know where you stand on them. Vote for candidates who make the river their priority.