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1.) The natural process that has been occurring is the erosion of the earth between the Mississippi river and the Atchafalaya river. If the erosion and the flooding continue then the water will destroy the land and everything there. For years the head of the Atchafalaya river was blocked by a massive “raft” -a 30 mile log jam- that defined the efforts of settlers to remove it, In 1839, the State of Louisiana began to dislodge the raft and open up the river as a free flowing and navigable stream. The removal of the log jam provided an opportunity for the Atchafalaya river to enlarge, becoming deeper and wider and carry more and more of the Mississippi’s flow. The Atchafalaya river offered the Mississippi river a shorter outlet to the Gulf of Mexico -- 142 miles compared to 315 -- and by 1951 it was apparent that, unless something was done soon, the Mississippi would take the course of the Atchafalaya.
2.) Design engineers proposed a plan to dam the natural stream Old River and build two control structures, one to operate at all times and stages, and the other to operate only during floods. A lock to preserve navigation between the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya-Red River system was also included.
The Old River control structures were to be operated so as to maintain the distribution of flow and sediments between the lower Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River in approximately the same proportions as occurred naturally in 1950. That distribution was determined to be approximately 30 percent of the total latitude flow (combined flow in the Red River and Mississippi above the control structures) passing down the Atchafalaya River on an annual basis.
3.) If the Mississippi River changed course it would turn the present river channel into a saltwater estuary and the effects on Louisiana would be catastrophic. Corporations have constructed billions of dollars worth of petrochemical plants, refineries, grain elevators, and fossil fuel and nuclear electric generating plants, most of which depend upon fresh water for their manufacturing process, along both banks of the Mississippi River. Also, cities below Baton Rouge, including New Orleans, would be hard-pressed to find drinking water.
The Atchafalaya Basin could not accept the Mississippi flow without massive flooding, extensive relocations, and the upheaval of the social and economic patterns of that area. A new route would render hundreds of millions of dollars worth of flood control projects useless along the lower Mississippi and expensive flood control projects would be required in the newly created Mississippi delta.
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