Nicholas School Internship Blogs

Welcome to the Bayou
by -- May 17th, 2011

Preparing for Our Summer Adventure in the Louisiana Bayou

Washington Post, May 11th

Washington Post, May 11th

Every adventure has to begin somewhere, right? This week as I am packing up my house to move to Chauvin, Louisiana for the summer, I have prepared by receiving two tickets.  The first is a Duke campus parking ticket (my first ever).  As anyone who has ever tried to park at Duke knows, the best way to describe the parking situation here would be “unpleasant”.  The second is a speeding ticket (my first in 5 years) as I drove my stuff down to my Beaufort storage unit for the summer.  The trip to Beaufort was necessary because I will be moving to the Duke Marine Lab next year, and will not be returning to my Durham home next August.  I won’t tell you how much money I am out now, but both tickets were in the triple digits.  Ouch. 

Then of course there is the news that as I was packing this weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers opened part of the Morganza Spillway on Saturday and Sunday to relieve pressure on the levees due to the flooding of the Mississippi River.  The Morganza Spillway is located about 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.  I’m assuming that we will hear these two words “Morganza Spillway” a lot this summer.  To understand the gravity of the flooding, 1973 was the last and only time the Morganza Spillway was opened after being built in 1954.  Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Mississippi has already flooded 3 million acres in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi and thousands of people have had to leave their homes.

Opening the Morganza Spillway will protect the cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge from massive damage which would have possibly been on the scale of, or greater than the damage from Hurricane Katrina.  However, the tradeoff is that in the Atchafalaya Basin there will potentially be damage and flooding of thousands of acres of pastures, cropland, and homes, and also extensive environmental damage.

According to this NYtimes article, there are about 2,500 people directly affected by the opening of the spillway, and about 22,500 other people who are threatened by “swollen backwaters”.  People began evacuating before the spillway was opened Saturday, with Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal urging the remaining people to also evacuate.  Attempts were also made by many communities to protect towns with sand bags and other flood barriers.

And yes, Heidi and I, along with fellow MEM student Alicia Bihler, seven Duke Engage undergraduate students, and Nicholas School professor Charlotte Clark, are planning to arrive in Chauvin beginning later this week.  In the map, Chauvin is located near the city of Houma (in the yellow area).

The short term economic and environmental damages of this flood are something I’m sure we’ll be experiencing this summer.  However, I don’t think anyone really knows what the long term damage will be, which will surely be compounded by the distress already felt from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and maybe most importantly, the ongoing wetland loss in Louisiana.

I guess my tickets this week aren’t so bad compared to what the people and wildlife are and will experiencebecause of the flooding.  I’ll just remember when I do finally get on the road to take it slow and enjoy the scenery.

…More updates to come on whether the flooding will change our group’s travel plans, or if we get involved in the clean-up effort that will likely be needed in the coming weeks.  The crest of the flooding is not expected for another week, so right now my travel plans are somewhat up in the air since I will be driving down from Ohio to Louisiana later this week.

Thanks to Charlotte Clark for finding this:

As a pet lover, this makes me sad, but also hopeful that people will be reunited with their pets at some point:

“This is a way of life to us.”

The potential effects on the economy and gas prices from the flooding:

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