The Mississippi River and Oil Pollution

One of the reasons people from other parts of the country move to Southern Louisiana are the colorful Tennesse Williams-esque characters scattered among the swamps and bayous. The Mississippi River is one of those characters. New Orleans would be nothing without this friend and foe. This weekend the River will crest at its highest peak in Louisiana since 1927 after weeks of flooding town after town nestled on its banks.

The Bonnet Carre and Morganza Spillways have been opened in some capacity to not only release pressure on the levees, but to prevent the flooding of nearly 2.4 million people in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I live relatively close to the River in New Orleans in a neighborhood called St. Roche. Once devastated by Hurricane Katrina’s seemingly endless flooding, the people of New Orleans have a bittersweet perspective of the most current situation. It’s a heartbreaking struggle to understand why I don’t have to evacuate while thousands just south of me have been forced to do so.  

Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper spent most of last week tracking the opening of the spillways. You can read their reports here:

May 3 – Historic Flooding of the Mississippi River

May 10 – Mississippi River Diverted to Atchafalaya River

May 11 – Mississippi River Flood 2011

May 15 – Mississippi River Flood 2011- Atchafalaya River, Basin and Backwater Areas

This past Monday and Tuesday, Dean Wilson, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, went into the Atchafalaya Basin to monitor the oil and gas platforms and pipelines that are being impacted by this rising water. Dean, who is the best swamp tour guide around, told me that the water is reaching the top of the trees in the Basin and he is even having a hard time finding his way around. This coming from a man that can go full speed in his boat, stop suddenly and explain the history of one particular Cypress that he has grown fond of over the years.

What they found wasn’t so surprising, a mixed bag of companies responsibly prepared with their equipment tied down, some not so responsible companies and oil spills from sunken barges and pipelines that have shifted in the rising water.

We face many issues on the Guf Coast. Severe weather is just one of them. We also have a legacy of oil pollution. After the BP oil disaster last summer, the Oil Spill Commission released a report of recommendations. In that report were recommendations for creating more strategic and effective regulartory and enforcement procedures to avoid another BP oil disaster. Those recommendations have yet to be enacted. In fact not a single piece of legislation trying to do so has passed Congress. So the Gulf Coast sits in the same place it did April 19, 2010, the day before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, at risk for another devastating oil spill.

We can't stop hurricanes and flooding from hitting the shores of the Gulf Coast, but we can create stronger regulatory and enforcement policies to prevent further oil pollution from happening.

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