The Mississippi River Flood of 1973 was a disaster that came close to being a catastrophe.
While we journalists slogged around covering a story in backwater that stretched west-east from Avoylles Parish to Vidalia and north-south from St. Joseph to Morgan City, critical attention was on the Old River Control Structure.
As the river kept rising, the force of its water eroded the sides of the structure and its foundation pilings, pushing it to the edge of collapse.
Why was that a concern? The structure was put into place beginning in the 1950s to keep the Mississippi from doing what it probably eventually will do -- move its flow toward the Atchafalaya.
The structure (actually four units) never lets more than 30 percent of the Mississippi flow slip through a channel westward into the Atchafalaya.
In 1973, the Morganza Spillway, downstream from Old River, was partially opened to lower river levels at Baton Rouge and New Orleans and to relieve pressure on part of the Old River system.
It worked and the Old River facility was beefed up.
Why is all that important? Here’s what experts say:
Had the river changed course, several communities, including Morgan City, would have had to relocate.
Pipelines, bridges and the like that crossed the Atchafalaya would have had to be relocated.
Towns along the lower Mississippi, most notably New Orleans, would have had to find a new potable water supply.
All shipping through the Port of New Orleans, one of the world’s busiest and most important ports, would have ceased with the river now more than 60 miles to the west.
By now, 40 years later, the state and nation would have adapted to the changes but we would be a different place.
At some point, those who study such things say, the Mississippi will win and change course.
Not as long as they’re around, says the Corps of Engineers.
Time will tell.
Editor Jim Butler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.