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The Levees Broke

>> Saturday, June 21, 2008


This image is copyright Natee2000 on Flickr under creative commons.

Recently, there has been a hefty bit of flooding in the Midwest. No fewer than 19 levees have broken according the Army Corps of Engineers. Tons of workers have tried to pile sandbags in hope of pushing back the torrent of the Mississippi and its tributaries. This is a bit in vain for the simple reason of development.

No, the flooding is not a sign of the Apocalypse. Flooding happens when it rains more than it should . That is why certain areas are known as flood plains. These areas are formed of river sediment and are important due to the high fertility and saving everyone else from getting flooded! You see, when the river floods, the water has to go somewhere and floodplains are it. They are like sponges. The land around these areas is even more important. Let's put this into perspective.

Take your house plants: when dry, you can put in a substantial amount of water before it becomes saturated. However, cover this plant with a plate and pour water over it and you get water everywhere! This is what happened in the Midwest. People were developing (and still are) areas that normally "wicked" away a lot of the rain. Since all the soil and terrain is covered with a "plate" of cement and asphalt, there are less and less places for the water to get absorbed into and more runoff causing more flooding. Also, a lot of the levees that were built actually "bottle-necked" the Mississippi pushing it through an area much narrower than existed before the levees were built.

Now we get to the topic of contention... Should we rebuild or should we just concede defeat and leave well enough alone to avoid more heartache and death in the long run?

More info on this at SciAm and Army Corps of Engineers.

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