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Farmland or Cairo, Ill. — an extraordinary dilemma


To save the town of Cairo, Ill., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have to sacrifice 133,000 acres of farmland. That's an extraordinary measure to take in a modern world. Will opening the floodway accomplish what the Corps intends for it to do? Or will it create more problems?

I wouldn’t want to be the person with my finger on the switch. Flip it and blow the Birds Point-New Madrid levee and save the city of Cairo Ill., at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Or don’t blow the levee and save 133,000 acres of prime farmland in Mississippi County, Mo., along with homes and several flourishing businesses within the floodway.

Cairo or farmland.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to save Cairo. In a statement the Corps said, “The 1928 Flood Control Act gives the president of the Mississippi River Commission the authority to operate the BP-NM Floodway when the Mississippi River reaches 58 feet on the Cairo, Ill., gauge with the prediction to rise to 61 feet and rising.”

If the levee is intentionally breached, a Niagara Falls-like wall of water will forever change the farmscape for both current and future generations in the floodway. (Both Cairo and the residents of the floodway were evacuated as the plan proceeded.)

Why should there even be such a dilemma in the modern world?

Obviously, the Corps and Mother Nature operate not out of malicious intent or impulse. Both are purely devoted to laws that govern them — the Corps to the strict and unwavering operation of the floodway, Mother Nature to the indiscriminate laws of physics.

Nonetheless, it’s downright scary to think that somebody not named Mother Nature will be attempting to control the course of one of the most powerful and unpredictable forces on the planet, the Mighty Mississippi River.

The operational plan for the floodway calls for liquid explosive to be pumped into pipe in place in the BP-NM levee. When opened, the floodway will divert some 550,000 cubic feet per second from the river, thereby lowering the water level in the Mississippi to more manageable levels.

But who’s to say how much water actually rushes through the floodway when the levee is breached. Kevin Mainord, a farmer and mayor of East Prairie, which is just outside the floodway, says the secondary levee protecting his town has never been tested like it will be tested if the floodway is opened. If water breaches the levee protecting the town, what will happen to his town, to other towns?

Some, if not much of the blame, can be placed squarely on the backs of environmental extremists who continually work against the efforts of flood control along the Mississippi River ( These groups push for laws to return any land (that they themselves don’t live or work on, of course) to some utopian, original state. You know — Shangri-La, kumbaya, and all that.

On Sunday, May 1, the Corps was pumping explosive into pipes built into the levee. Thousands of eyes fixed on the tick marks of a river gage. At press time, the order had not yet been given. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 2, 2011

This is insane. The damage for years to come to the farmground is unforgiveable. That town is nothing compared to the farmground and the loss of productive food producing land. The core of engineers is always what i have suspected. Power hungry and nuts.

on May 3, 2011

I remember crossing the Ohio River from Kentucky in the mid 60's and being met by Illinois National Guard Troops to be led in convoy through Cario. Buildings were being burnt and the last time I was through there, it didn't look much different. It is a crying shame that thousands of acres of prime farmland is being sacrificed to prodtect a town of 2800. Most of those are dependent on the crops and revenue that come off that land to survive. Decisions like this from the Corp of Engineers are just another example why the American people have such a low opinion of government and politicians. They bow down to special interest groups in order to keep their power.

Weldon Cox (not verified)
on May 3, 2011

The Corps of Engineers continue to exhibit their "follow the book" logic which requires no thought or mental input on their part. Cairo has been a dead town for years, I know I was born there. The farmland that will be destoryed has been improved and nutured for years; contrary to anything you will see in Cairo. Score another one for the enviromentalist. Someday when they are starving and naked they will possibly realize the folly of their actions. No they will still blame someone else.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 3, 2011

This is absurd. We could rebuild Cairo, IL in another higher location and every resident and business buildings. Has anyone figured the economic impact of losing 130,000 acres of farmland for years? Is there anyone in political power with common sense anymore?

farmnwife (not verified)
on May 3, 2011

The town of Cairo should have been moved along time ago just as many flood prone towns have been along the Miss.R The levees were built to protect the farmsteads behind it. It just goes to show you can't rely on the gov or the courts.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 3, 2011

farmers loose like always, nobody cares.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 5, 2011

The best article on the situation that I have seen. Sophie's Choice, the ugly kid won.

Rebel Dugan of Charleston, MO said " What are the nine scariest words in the english language? I'm from the government and I'm here to help!"

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