What is the “St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project,” you ask? That’s a good question!
Long story short, there’s a really important (and federally authorized) floodway down in southeastern Missouri–yes, Missouri–that allows the Mississippi River, in times of big floods, to escape into this floodway and relieve the system and prevent flooding of small towns up and downstream of the floodway. For more details, read our webpage about it!
The Corps of Engineers are attempting to revive a decades-old project that would modify the floodway, and prevent some of the current important functions of the floodway, like backwater flooding. This project would also provide increased resistance for the use of the floodway in times of extreme floods, like in 2011, when the Corps opened up the floodway at Birds Point.
The images above, courtesy of NASA, conveys just how important this floodway is to the Mississippi River. In 2011, when the River was preparing to burst at the seams, and had already begun flooding a number of towns north of the Ohio River confluence, the Corps blew the levee. In doing so, a portion of the floodwaters were able to escape into what was once a natural and fully accessible floodplain.
Take Action NOW! Stop the project!
Help protect the safety of Kentucky’s river towns!
This escape lowered the water levels at Paducah, upstream on the Ohio, by 2 feet in under 48 hours. It prevented the flooding of Cairo, IL, and likely prevented the downstream flooding of a few other small towns like Wickliffe and Hickman, KY. If it had not been activated, then Paducah and many other towns likely would have flooded.
Why is this bad?
This would also result in the elimination of an enormous acreage of functional and important wetlands. These wetlands, some of which are in good vegetated condition, and some of which are farmed, all provide important functions to the landscape and to the river system, holding floodwaters, treating the water, and providing critical fish and wildlife habitat. The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project would construct a levee at the southern end of the New Madrid floodway, effectively closing it off from natural backwater flooding.
Take Action NOW! Prevent the loss of critical wetlands!
At a time when we are losing significant amounts of wetlands to crop farming, it is important that these wetlands remain functional.
But that’s just the basics. By federal law, the wetland impacts require full mitigation, i.e., the Corps has to figure out how to replace the wetland acreage by restoring wetland elsewhere (and nearby–not in North Dakota). This is completely impractical, as folks in USFWS and EPA have suggested at various times with this project, and would cost the federal government (and taxpayers) an extraordinary amount.
Even worse, by moving forward with this project, and closing off the backwater flooding, it will likely lead to increased farming intensity, and possibly to development of the land. There is significant concern that landowners within the floodway, who have already been paid (70 years ago) for the flowage rights to this land, and who already raise a fuss about the use of the floodway under current circumstances, will raise even more of a fuss about the floodway being used in the future.
The science and understanding of river systems has evolved substantially over the past century, and hydrologists, ecologists, biologists, botanists, and geomorphologists, and other scientists are fully aware of the crucial importance of connecting a river to its floodplain. The Mississippi River only has 4 of these connections remaining, one of which is the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway. We need to make sure the floodway remains fully integrated into the Mississippi River system.
Stop the St. Johns Basin-New Madrid Levee project NOW!
To help continue to build resistance to this project, there are a number of things you can do.
First, contact Senator Paul’s office, who is from western Kentucky, and let him know that this is an important issue and that he needs to oppose this in order to help protect Kentuckians. Then, contact Senator McConnell’s office as well, and let him know that he needs to take a stance on this, for his reelection campaign.
We’ve sent letters to both our Senators, and they are attached for your perusal below. Feel free to copy text from these letters and use in a personal email to the Senators, or call their office directly!
Senator Rand Paul’s Legislative Director, Rachel Bovard:
DC Office: 202-224-4343
Senator McConnell’s Legislative Assistant, Eric King AND Legislative Director, Reb Brownell:
firstname.lastname@example.org AND email@example.com,
DC Office: 202-224-2541
Don’t stop there! Write a short op-ed to your local newspaper to explain the project, and how wasteful and harmful it could be to Kentuckians!