Atchafalaya

This post has more info. Apparently, the rains may yet cause flooding.

This page has some background:

The Old River Control Structure

As time progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the Mississippi was diverting more and more of its flow down the Atchafalaya River. In the 1950’s, engineers observed that the Mississippi would soon cease to inhabit its current channel as the mainstream, and instead migrate to the Atchafalaya River Basin. The path by which the Mississippi would migrate was a small stretch of water, named the “Old River”, that connected the Mississippi to the Red River. Old River was formed when Captain Henry Shreve dug a shortcut across the the neck of Turnbull’s Bend in 1831. The Mississippi abandoned its old course and took the shortcut provided by Old River. As a result, the Atchafalaya River received more and more discharge from the Mississippi. Discharge was also increased into the Atchafalaya in 1840, when a 30 mile long log jam was removed from its headwaters by the state of Louisiana. This increased discharge caused most of the problems the Army Corps of Engineers would have to face.

In their study of the Atchafalaya River, the USACE was able to deduce several possible effects of the diversion. The discharge of water into the current Mississippi channel would decrease until it resembled a bayou. All the levees along the previous Mississippi channel would no longer be needed to prevent flooding. In addition, towns such as Morgan City, located within the current Atchafalaya flood plain would be swept away by the newly expanded river. An expensive levee system would have to be built along the Atchafalaya in order to preserve current standards of flood control. The old Mississippi channel would no longer be able to be used for navigation by industry without expensive and extensive dredging. Industry would lack the water it needed to perform many of its processes such as cooling and the dumping of wastes. Agriculture would suffer from the lack irrigation water, and cities such as New Orleans would suffer economically from the lack of trade and drinking water. The only thing the diversion of the Atchafalaya promised to bring to society was disaster, and legislators decided to prevent this disaster at all costs.

The Army Corps of Engineers was given the job of maintaining the current distribution of water between the Lower Mississippi and the Atchafalaya River channels (70%-30%). They did so by building the Old River Flood Control Structure which consisted of massive floodgates that could be opened and closed as needed at the entrance to the Old River. This structure was completed in 1963. In 1973, a large flood tested the ORCS to its limits. Huge scour developed underneath the large steel pilings which anchored the structure to the river bottom. The structure was almost swept away, and emergency concrete was poured into the holes as a kind of large Band-Aid. After the ’73 flood, the corps saw the need for a backup structure, and built the Old River Control Auxiliary Structure (ORCAS) to alleviate some of the pressure on the main control structure during large scale flooding.

Despite several close calls, the ORCS still manages to keep the Mississippi River in check. How long this will last, however, is a matter of opinion. The Army corps claims to have the situation in control; the Mississippi will not divert to the Atchafalaya as long as they are there to prevent it. However, what if the control structures necessary to prevent the Mississippi’s diversion to the Atchafalaya River were completely undermined and swept away during a flood such as the one in 1973? The ORCS has almost failed in the face of the Mississippi’s might before, and it could still do so. Can the Army corps withstand nature’s might indefinitely, or will physics and the Mississippi River win out in the end?

Researcher Raphael Kazmann at LSU suggested that the Mississippi would be the victor in the struggle of man against nature. In his 1980 study on the possible effects of the Atchafalaya diversion he states, “Probably the most important single conclusion reached by this study is that in the long run the Atchafalaya will become the principal distributary of the Mississippi River and that the current main-stream will become an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico…the final outcome is only a matter of time” (Kazmann 1).

In addition to the flooding problem, engineers now face problems caused by the lack of flooding. The channelization produced by the levees and control structures deprives natural wetlands of the sediments normally deposited during flooding. Wetlands rely on sediments from distributaries and flooding to counteract subsidence, the compaction of sediments under their own weight. Water flows faster in subsidized areas, and distributaries can rapidly expand into wide channels, causing wetlands to disappear under the influx of water. The coastal marshes of Louisiana provide a natural barrier against the erosion causes by the fierce storms which often come from the Gulf. Because of the loss of these wetlands, the Louisiana coast has receded several thousands of feet over the past few decades, and commercial fishermen have also been deprived of a ready source of income.

Most of the problems resulting from the levee system, including wetland degradation, stem from channelization. While the levee system could not be scrapped without a large financial loss, the USACE realized that diversion structures could help alleviate some of the problems caused by channelization. Diversion structures diminish some of the force of flood waters and the likelihood of crevasses (breaks in the levee) by providing flood waters with established escape routes. The first diversion structure, the Bonnet Carre Spillway, was built in response to the great flood of 1927. It was designed to discharge excess flood waters into Lake Pontchartrain and thence into the Gulf of Mexico.

The USACE has recently started to build other diversion structures whose main purpose would be to divert sediment-rich water into wetland areas in order to stop subsidence. The Caernarvon diversion structure, completed in 1991, was the first of these modern structures. It has significantly restored wetland acreage and wildlife in the area. The success of the Caernarvon diversion structure has encouraged the government to develop more of diversion structures. Construction of the Davis Pond Diversion Structure began in 1997. Further in the future is a possible third freshwater structure located on the Bonnet Carre spillway itself. The Bonnet Carre Freshwater Diversion Structure would divert river water into Lake Pontchartrain, and finally the Western Mississippi Sound. With the help of diversion structures, the wetlands of the Mississippi River Basin may be able to offset the effects of subsidence and coastal erosion.

As the year 2000 approaches, the future seems uncertain for the lower Mississippi. Many questions regarding its fate reside in the hearts of both citizen and legislator alike. When will the next record-breaking flood take place, and what will be its effects? No one can tell whether the capricious river will flood its banks for a final time and permanently send its main flow to the Atchafalaya. Will the mighty Mississippi winding past New Orleans be reduced to a bayou? How much wetland habitat will be lost to subsidization and how far will the Louisiana coasts recede? These questions remain unanswered. Much work remains to be done to counteract the damage caused by our attempts to control nature; it is up to us to see that matters don’t become worse.

No one is talking about the river.

The Mississippi “River” is really, more or less, a system of long lakes and channels and concrete from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. At one point in Louisiana, only a fortress of concrete keeps it from switching banks and heading to the southwest. Any serious disrpution to this system and it will happen.

If anything is left of New Orleans after this hurricane, there may be nothing left of the old Mississippi there either. Without the flow of the river, the seawater will back up further, and, indeed the industrial shipping on the river there will end.

update: the river and NO both made it. This time.

update 2: I guess they gave the all clear too soon. It’s getting worse down there. It’s apocalyptic. I still don’t have any information about the river controls near Simmesport, LA about 50 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, where the Miss is trying to change course (and would wipe out Morgan City)

EROI: How No One Wants To Think About Energy

With oil prices experiencing their first non-political spike serious conversations are finally being made about the sustainability of America and the world’s hydrocarbon-based future. Two of the elemental arguments go like this: Oil is approaching its peak, the Geological Pessimists contend, even as more people are going to be using more of it; drastic changes must be made. And: The price signal of expensive oil will drive more exploration, RD&D, and make more oil profitable from existing wells, counter the Ingenuity Optimists; human ingenuity will make oil more plentiful and cheap over time.

Energy Returned on Investment, or EROI, is how neither side wants to consider the problem. EROI essentially means taking the systems theory aspect of sustainability and applying it to energy. This makes the Ingenuity Optimists’ every-little-thing-is-gonna’-be-alright attitude sound like a pipe dream. There is natural pressure that allows oil to be extracted from wells, eventually this depletes and pressure has to be added to the well – usually be pumping water or natural gas into it – to force the oil out of the ground. Once unnatural pressure is necessary to extract the oil each new barrel from that well has a decreasing EROI.

The days of wildcatting, drilling randomly in a suspected oil field and hoping to find black gold, are long over. For years new wells have been more deep and distant from supply chains (the middle of the ocean, siberia, Alaska etc.) and have therefore owned worse EROIs. When the Ingenuity Optimists start clucking about billions and billions of barrels of Canadian shale oil just waiting to be pumped into your car they almost are certainly not considering the probability that it might well take two barrels of oil (once you consider processing; rocks, minerals and water must be cleaned from the oil) to produce every three barrels of usable shale oil.

Ah, but what if all of this pumping and processing is done by natural gas, coal, or nuclear power? Then you are just trading one energy source for the other. Perhaps these domestic sources are better (No Middle Eastern entanglements), but the mining and milling of coal, natural gas and uranium is dependent on… oil!

Forty dollars is about the price of gasoline that should be high enough to spark the incentives that the Ingenuity Optimists are counting on. That market signal has existed and only gotten stronger for over a year. The oil industry is not in wont of money, brainpower or political clout. If news of new technologies or new discoveries does not begin to materialize within a year, then it could well be that no ingenuity or creativity can stretch a finite resource infinitely.

EROI is also problematic for the Geological Pessimists who can taste the oil peak and fathom the post-petroleum future. I am a green energy stalwart, but I also recognize that each solar panel and windmill comes with an (probably mostly dirty) energy deficit that it must make up. Mining and processing silicon into a solar panel takes a lot of energy; solar energy is only clean once the panel has absorbed enough energy to equal that amount used to create it.

EROI is tougher on ethanol. As energy is transferred it becomes less organized. Currently, it takes more energy to turn corn into fuel then the ethanol the fuel provides. This would be a useful way to reduce Middle Eastern oil dependence, if farming weren’t already so reliant on oil.

This does not mean, however, that no solutions exist and that human ingenuity is worthless.

More to come.

Democracy Corps: My interpretation

The left-echo chamber at Kos says the Democracy Corps focus groups says that Democrats don’t have to compromise on their core values to win. Bull shit.

It says that people in red states, and people that are uneducated and rural are believing everything they hear from the conservative media, and only disregarding them in extreme in-your-face circumstances like health care.

They say they don’t like the Dems on gay marriage and abortion and that it’s the press’s fault for making Iraq look bad. They say it’s lawyers who are at fault for their health care bills, and that it’s not fair that old folks don’t get 100% but “illegals do” (lol.).

I hear this kind of tripe from time to time, of course. But if you read between the lines, you don’t see a plan for a kind of DLC Democrat to come forward and say Hillary like softening things on abortion, and so forth.

What you see is a bunch of dumb hicks who are too worried about their own asses to give a shit about anyone else and as long as the Right wing media keeps feeding them fuel to that fire, they’re going to keep buying.

Fuck that and fuck them.

The only answer is institution building and ass-kicking Dean/Schweitzer/Hackett type candidates.

Final Pre-Preseason Power Rankings

(1) Phildelphia
(2) Ottawa
(3) Edmonton
(4) Vancouver
(5) Anaheim
(6) Calgary
(7) Pittsburg
(8) New Jersey
(9) San Jose
(10) Boston
(11) Toronto
(12) Atlanta
(13) Tampa Bay
(14) Los Angeles
(15) St. Louis
(16) Montreal
(17) Chicago
(18) Dallas
(19) Colorado
(20) Detroit
(21) Minnesota
(22) Nashville
(23) Florida
(24) Columbus
(25) Buffalo
(26) Islanders
(27) Carolina
(28) Phoenix
(29) Rangers
(30) Washington

I’m sure this will change A LOT after pre-season play. We just don’t know who’s going to not miss a beat and who’s going to take a long time to get back in NHL game shape.

Turn up heat on Iraq? Oil Peak; etc.

Kos says it’s time for the Dems to stand up against Bush on Iraq for real now. The establishment Dems are slow to jump on to that tac, even with Hagel doing so. Who’s right?

I think Hagel’s positioning himself for the 08 general even before he’s won the primary. But Democrats, especially older Democrats, have to remember how being anti-Vietnam has undermined their position as the war party for decades (wrongly, but in reality).

The solution? My first brainstorm if I had the ear of an 08 Dem candiate: a staged pullout of Iraq, with completion in a year, and, significantly, a portion of those troops redeployed to Afghanistan, Sudan, and South Korea.

As the NYT printed this weekend, there are a lot of people skeptical that Saudi Arabia can produce more than 15mb/day of oil. Whatever their theoretical peak may be, I doubt they will achieve 90% of it. Eventually, political unrest will spill into the Kingdom–moreso than it has. And if history is any guide, oil shocks are followed by demand shocks to producing nations as consumer nations use less. The next time that occurs, there could be serious unrest there.

There are a couple of possibilities. One, another 100 years of oil will turn up. Two, a war, precipitated by oil supply competition, will ruin the economy of a major consumer (and perhaps raise the demand for SPF 1,000,000 sunblock there) so the others can continue; or, three, we get over oil.

Since we have to do three anyway, why not start now when we have some control over it? That fickle whore, capital, currently the courtisan of the petrocracy, will turn it into a cuckold quick if money can be made in an alternative fuel. Are you listening fuel cell people?

Powell ’08? Has Colin Powell’s chief of staff’s comment that his bizarro-adlai moment at the UN was the low point of his career triangulation for 08?

Trade of the week: I still say go short on Clinton Dem nominee ’08. Whether she wins or not, she’s massively overvalued at 41. Sell short above 33, cover below 20. I also say go long on Wesley Clark. I got in at 0.5, he’s now around 5. He’s won the dKos straw poll several times now. Buy below 10, sell over 15. Go all in if Hillary is out.