A detailed chronicle of how the wild Mississippi will eventually deliver a cataclysm
Beyond Control reveals the Mississippi
as a waterway of change, unnaturally
confined by ever-larger levees and
control structures. During the great
flood of 1973, the current scoured
a hole beneath the main structure
near Baton Rouge and enlarged a
pre-existing football-field-size crater.
That night the Mississippi River nearly
changed its course for a shorter and
steeper path to the sea. Such a map-changing reconfiguration
of the country's largest river would bear national significance as
well as disastrous consequences for New Orleans and towns like
Morgan City, at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River. Since 1973,
the US Army Corps of Engineers Control Complex at Old River has
kept the Mississippi from jumping out of its historic channel and
plunging through the Atchafalaya Basin to the Gulf of Mexico.
Beyond Control traces the history of this phenomenon,
beginning with a major channel shift around 3,000 years ago. By
the time European colonists began to explore the Lower Mississippi
Valley, a unique confluence of waterways had formed where the Red
River joined the Mississippi, and the Atchafalaya River flowed out into
the Atchafalaya Basin. A series of human alterations to this potentially
volatile web of rivers, starting with a bend cutoff in 1831 by Captain
Henry Miller Shreve, set the forces in motion for the Mississippi's
move into the Atchafalaya Basin.
Told against the backdrop of the Lower Mississippi River's
impending diversion, the book's chapters chronicle historic floods,
rising flood crests, a changing strategy for flood protection, and
competing interests in the management of the Old River outlet.
Beyond Control is both a history and a close look at an inexorable,
living process happening now in the twenty-first century.
James F. Barnett Jr., Natchez, Mississippi, is author of The
Natchez Indians: A History to 1735 and Mississippi's American
Indians, both published by University Press of Mississippi. His
work has appeared in the Journal of Mississippi History, Mississippi
Archaeology, and Southern Quarterly. He is retired as director of
the Historic Properties Division with the Mississippi Department of
Archives and History.
208 pages (approx.), 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, 31 maps, 1 table, bibliography, index