Which Would You Flood?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

AP Photo: Jeff Roberson

Here we have a photo of some of the 130,000 acres the Army Corps of Engineers has flooded. The Corps blew up portions of a levee to protect the town of Cairo, Illinois, which sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The rivers were threatening to flood the town. Its nearly 3,000 residents had already been evacuated.

I’m glad I don’t have the job of choosing between town and country when the rivers are rushing to make their own decision. It can’t be easy. But it seems to me that when there’s a choice to be made, farmland loses. And I don’t know if that’s the way it should be.

If population density is the deciding factor, the 130,000 acres lose. The land, which is known as the spillway, is in Missouri. It has about a hundred houses and some 200 residents. If Cairo flooded, nearly 3,000 people would have been made homeless.

Looked at that way, the decision is easy.

But there’s another way to think about this. Tiny shoots of corn are just coming up in the spillway. The wheat is about knee high. This is land that feeds tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of people. Some of those people are doubtless in Cairo.

Cairo eats. The spillway feeds.

Houses can be rebuilt in months. The rich soil the flooding washes away will take years, if not generations, to restore.

I’m glad nobody asked me to decide. If you think I know what’s right here, then I’ve failed in making my point.

My heart is aching for the people in the spillway. When I make decisions that affect only me, I tend to lead with my heart. But this one isn’t about me, and my head isn’t smart enough to figure it all out.

Read these and see how you’d decide:

Army Corps Blows Up Missouri Levee

Third Levee Blast Rescheduled for Wednesday Night

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2 Responses to “Which Would You Flood?”

  1. I agree that the decision to be made here is not an easy one.  My Dad, who just passed, was from Cairo.  He used to talk about the 1937 floods and the levees that held back the waters.  The town of Cairo was economically depressed and I am somewhat surprised at the lack of discussion over this issue.

  2. #MJK, I’m sorry for your loss.  I, too, was surprised at the lack of discussion, which is why I posted about it.  Since then I’ve heard one radio report in which someone from the Corps explained the decision by saying, “We have to protect life and property first,” as if there were no life and property on the Missouri side.  NPR’s Morning Edition had a segment on it this morning.  You could hear that on the npr.org site.

    I still don’t know what’s right. I’m just sorry for the farmers who lost their crops and their homes.  That’s property, too.

    Of course, that farmland became as fertile as it is by being flooded. And an area known locally as “the spillway” didn’t come by that name by being high and dry.

    Life is complicated; nothing is clear and easy.

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