Long term flooding

When one thinks of floods, one thinks of a disaster that lasts for a short time. Heavy rains or hurricanes or snowmelt causes a rise in the levels of rivers that overwhelm their banks and levees or the sewer and other drainage systems. But although the damage caused can be great and long lasting, the water usually subsides fairly quickly.

But this year, there have been parts of the US where people have not seen the ground for six months because the floods have stuck around.

Compounding the problem was a high Mississippi River, which remained near or above flood stage for the longest span since 1927. The perfect storm of historic rainfall and a high river resulted in a backwater flood that has lingered beyond anything the region has ever seen.

Only within with the past couple weeks has the water receded, and for the first time in nearly half a year, farmers are finally beginning to see their land re-emerge.

Imagine seeing something like this for six months.

Farmland in the lower Mississippi delta remains submerged in floodwater. Photograph by Rory Doyle/The Guardian

It is surprising that this phenomenon is not getting wider coverage. I had heard about widespread flooding but assumed that it was in different regions at different times. I had not been aware that some places seem to be under permanent floods.


  1. Sam N says

    It must be fairly rural areas, if that happened to a city it would pop up in the news. And you would think the inhabitants and US government would clearly understand that type of agricultural land is called flood plains for a reason. Climate change may make these kinds of trends more likely, but we have been dealing with consequences of flood plains for as long as human civilization has existed.

  2. vucodlak says

    My home town spent nearly six months as a partially-flooded island. The roads in and out only opened last week. I don’t live there anymore because I could see this coming several years ago. I live less than ten miles away, however, and I’ve been keeping an eye on the situation.

    First off, commenters #2 and #3 are flat wrong- this is not “just the risk you take when you build next to water,” and it’s not a natural consequence of living on a flood plain. This was a manufactured disaster created by the mismanagement of the Army Corp of Engineers, the State of Illinois, and FEMA.

    The problems started when the Army Corp of Engineers decided that they’d no longer maintain the levees in our area. There is a long history of animus towards our area on the part of the State of Illinois, so I have little doubt that the State was whispering in the Corp’s ear about that. Back in the 1970s, the legislature introduced a bill to dynamite the levees and turn the area into a lake, destroying about a dozen towns in the process. The residents of those towns raised hell, and the bill was defeated. The legislature has never forgiven us for that.

    Back to the levees: my home county, being the poorest county in the state, can’t afford to maintain the levees on its own. We sought federal assistance from FEMA. FEMA told us they wouldn’t do anything about the levees, but they’d let us buy flood insurance (previously unavailable in our area). The catch was that no one could build anything without their approval. FEMA proceeded to set impossible standards for approval.

    Businesses that were planning on moving into the area pulled out. People who lost their homes for any reason were unable to rebuild. We voted the FEMA “assistance” out of the area. We were then informed that we would no longer receive any federal assistance of any kind. The state likewise told us to fuck off.

    The New Year’s Flood in 2016 overtopped and breached a levee about 10 miles south of my hometown, wiping out the town of Thebes. It was a levee we’d been trying to get fixed/upgraded for more than 20 years, to no avail. Thebes was over century old, and had weathered worse floods, but this particular flood was engineered by the Corp’s water control systems in the north to hit our area like a hammer, and it did its job. It smashed over a mile of levee. The river went down just as quickly as it had risen, however, and the damage didn’t extend much beyond Thebes.

    This year, the Mississippi has been at flood stage for over 6 months. That never-repaired levee breach has been pumping water into the surrounding area for all that time, flooding multiple towns, cutting off vital shipping routes, and generally strangling our little part of the world.

    The State of Illinois is finally getting its wish- my hometown wasn’t completely flooded, but it’s essentially dead, along with its neighbors. The most beautiful part of the state, not to mention the best farmland, is reduced to a fetid swamp. Guess we’ll finally have something in common with Chicago.

    Most of this happened with the state legislature and executive in the control of Democrats, by the way. Not that the rare instances when Republicans have had any power have served us any better, but I mention this because it was Chicago Democrats who started the campaign to wipe us off the map.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    vucodlak @5: “Chicago Democrats”. Not words that go together well, historically.

  4. Ridana says

    Were y’all this cavalier when New Orleans, half built below sea level, went under? When L.A. or S.F. or Tokyo get hit by earthquakes, is that just the risk of building on the ground, since there are seismic faults everywhere? Is the central third the nation supposed to move to the coasts to avoid tornadoes (except for the East Coast, where you should just expect hurricanes and suck it up)? Those Indonesians and Filipinos, they should know living there is just the risk you take living where tsunamis are a recurring problem (you too, Japan!).

    I expected better of the people on this site. Is the shoulder shrugging because you think they’re all Trumpist Republicans? This is not normal flood plain flooding. As vucodlak detailed, this was at least partially manufactured, as well as another climate change canary with the monsoon like rains in an area not known for monsoons. Where would you have the world’s 8 billion people move to, to remain free of natural and human assisted unnatural disasters? We’re in for a lot more of this kind of shit. But no matter, just the risk you take living somewhere. You should’ve made better choices.

  5. says

    There was also an excellent show on Reveal (I think it was) about how poverty (i.e: race) play into whose levees are taller and who gets flooded. To say it’s depressing is an understatement.

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