Paper No. 225-2
Presentation Time: 1:55 PM-2:25 PM
THE 1927 MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD AND ITS IMPACT ON U.S. SOCIETY AND FLOOD MANAGEMENT STRATEGY
BARRY, John M., Center for Bioenvironmental Research, Tulane and Universities, 1430 Tulane Avenue, SL-3, New Orleans, LA 70112, jvbarry@aol.com.

The 1927 flood struck the lower Mississippi River, displacing at least 700,000 and shattering the notion that river engineering had eliminated the threat of flooding from the Lower Mississippi Valley. This event left a lasting imprint on American politics, society, and on management strategies for the Mississippi and other U.S. rivers. Until 1927, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had pursued a flood-control strategy of “levees only”, according to which secondary channels and outlets had been sealed and upstream reservoir eschewed in favor of mammoth embankments separating the river channel from its floodplain. The Mississippi started rising in August, 1926, passed flood stage at Cairo, Illinois on New Year’s Day, 1927, and remained in flood for as long as 153 consecutive days. The flood shattered levees from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, inundating 27,000 square miles of land. The City of New Orleans was spared, but at the cost of dynamiting levees and intentionally flooding the poor and politically disenfranchised parishes downstream. Until that time, the U.S. Federal government had left relief from natural disasters in local and private hands, but the scope of the 1927 flood disaster was such that the government was forced to step in, ushering in the subsequent era of growing Federal involvement in disaster relief and recovery. The relief effort was massive but uneven, with inequities largely falling along racial lines. The 1927 flood also resulted in a sea change in strategies for flood control and river management in the U.S. With the old “levees only” policy definitely swept away, there gradually emerged the multifaceted structural approach that remains in place today. Although levees remain the keystone of the flood-control system for the Mississippi and other rivers, the Corps of Engineers yielded to pressure to include meander cutoffs, flood outlets, upstream reservoirs, and other measures. This presentation will outline the physical nature of the 1927 flood, the immediate impacts and responses to the disaster, and its lasting impacts on politics and society.

2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)
Session No. 225
Flood Hazard on Dynamic Rivers: Human Modification, Climate Change, and the Challenge of Non-Stationary Hydrology
Colorado Convention Center: Ballroom 2&3
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Wednesday, October 30, 2002
 

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