Levees and the Making of a Dysfunctional Floodplain

Part of the Estuaries of the World book series (EOTW)


Europeans colonists in Louisiana sought to detach their urban settlements from the invasive floodwaters of the Mississippi River. Early economic success of the French colony relied on cypress and rice – commodities that were reliant on annual inundations and wetland conditions – and thus regular flooding was beneficial across much of the landscape. With the turn toward sugar as the primary staple crop in the late eighteenth century, public policy and infrastructure investments fortified the levee system to reduce the risk of regular floods. With federal investment in the levee system in the late nineteenth century, structures increasingly severed the river from the floodplain wetlands. Even though a state scientist pointed out the value of interaction between the river and the floodplain, structural flood protection remained the dominant policy consideration through the twentieth century. Efforts are now underway to build sediment diversions to reactivate the connections between the river and the delta and will force those engaged in natural resource based to adapt to changing conditions.


Levees Floodplain Mississippi River Louisiana 


  1. American National Red Cross (1929) The Mississippi Valley flood disaster of 1927. American National Red Cross, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  2. Camillo CA, Pearcy MT (2004) Upon their shoulders: a history of the Mississippi River commission. Mississippi River Commission, VicksburgGoogle Scholar
  3. Colten CE (2003) Bayou St. John: strategic waterway of the Louisiana purchase. Hist Geogr 31:21–30Google Scholar
  4. Colten CE (2005) Unnatural metropolis: wresting New Orleans from nature. Louisiana State University Press, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  5. Colten CE (2014) Southern waters: the limits to abundance. Louisiana State University Press, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  6. Colten CE, Hemmerling SA (2014) Social impact assessment methodology for diversions and other Louisiana coastal master plan projects. The Water Institute for the Gulf, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  7. Cowdrey AE (1977) Land’s end: a history of the New Orleans District corp of engineers. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans DistrictGoogle Scholar
  8. Delahoussaye J (2010) James Delahoussaye collection of Atchafalaya River basin recordings. Library of Congress, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  9. Delahoussaye J (2014) Personal interview. December 22Google Scholar
  10. Elliott DO (1932) The improvement of the lower Mississippi River for flood control and navigation. U.S. Waterways Experiment Station, VicksburgGoogle Scholar
  11. Frank AD (1930) The development of the federal program of flood control on the Mississippi River. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Georgiou IJ, McCorquodale A, Retana AG (2007) Hydrodynamic and salinity modelling in the Pontchartrain Basin: final report. University of New Orleans, Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies, New Orleans.
  13. Gresham G (1963) Atchafalaya basin crisis. Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  14. Gulf States Research Institute (1973) Flood of ‘73: post flood report: fish and wildlife supplement. Gulf South Research Institute, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  15. Harrison RW (1951) Swamp land reclamation in Louisiana, 1849–1879. Louisiana Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  16. Herbet PO (1846) Annual report of the state engineer to the legislature of the state of Louisiana. The Jeffersonian, New Orleans, pp 10–11Google Scholar
  17. Keithly WR, Wilkins JG (2006) Compensable property interests and takings: a case study of the Louisiana oyster industry. Am Fish Soc Symp 587–597Google Scholar
  18. Kelman A (2003) A river and its city: the nature of landscape in New Orleans. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  19. Kemper JP (1929) Floods in the valley of the Mississippi a National Calamity. National Flood Commission, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewis PF (2003) New Orleans: the making of an urban landscape. Center for American Places, Santa FeGoogle Scholar
  21. Lopez J, Henkel T, Boyd E, Conner P, Milliken M, Baker A, Gustavson K, Martinez L (2013) Bohemia spillway in southeastern Louisiana: history, general description, and 2011 hydrologic surveys. Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  22. Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) (2002) Annual Monitoring Report: Pointe a al Hache. Baton Rouge.
  23. Louisiana Department of Wild Life and Fisheries (LDWLF) (1946) First biennial report 1944–1945. Louisiana Department of Wild Life and Fisheries, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  24. Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission (1956) Sixth biennial report. Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  25. Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission (LWLFC) (1957) Seventh biennial report, 1956–1957. Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission, New OrleansGoogle Scholar
  26. Mancil E (1972) A historical geography of industrial cypress lumbering in Louisiana. Ph.D. dissertation, Louisiana State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  27. Mandelman A (2016) Porous boundaries and permeable places: ordering nature in the Mississippi River delta. Ph.D. dissertation, University of WisconsinGoogle Scholar
  28. Mississippi River Commission (1927) Public hearings of the Mississippi River Commission (July 7, 1927–August 20, 1927), Appendix A. Vicksburg: Miss.: Mississippi River CommissionGoogle Scholar
  29. Monette JW (1903) The Mississippi floods. Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society 7:428–478Google Scholar
  30. Morris C (2012) The big muddy: an environmental history of the Mississippi River and its peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Norgress RE (1947) The history of the cypress lumber industry in Louisiana. Louisiana Historical Quarterly 30(3):1–83Google Scholar
  32. O’Neill KM (2006) Rivers by design: state power and the origins of U.S. flood control. Duke University Press, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  33. Pabis GS (1998) Delaying the deluge: the engineering debate over the flood control on the lower Mississippi River. J South Hist 64:421–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Penland S, Beall A (2002) Environmental atlas of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. U.S. Geological Survey, Open File Report 02–206.
  35. Rehder JB (1999) Delta sugar: Louisiana’s vanishing plantation landscape. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  36. Reuss M (1985) Andrew A. Humphreys and the development of hydraulic engineering: politics and technology in the Army Corps of Engineers, 1850–1950. Technol Cult 26(1):1–33Google Scholar
  37. Reuss M (1998) Designing the bayous: the control of water in the Atchafalaya Basin, 1800–1995. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Office of History, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar
  38. Schleifstein M (2015) Move forward with Mid-Barataria, Mid-Breton sediment diversions, state says. New Orleans Times Picayune, 21 October.
  39. St. Amant L (1973) Testimony to congress. In: U. S. Congress, Senate. Damage to oyster beds due to federal action, hearing before the subcommittee on water resources. 93rd Cong., 1st sess., 16–23Google Scholar
  40. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2012) 2011 Post-flood report. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division, VicksburgGoogle Scholar
  41. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives (1927a) Flood control: hearings before the committee on flood control, 6 parts. 70th Cong., 1st sess. November 7 to November 22Google Scholar
  42. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives (1927b) Spillways on the Lower Mississippi. H. Doc. 95. 70th Cong., 1st sessGoogle Scholar
  43. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives (1946) Rehabilitation of oyster beds: hearings before the committee on flood control. 79th Cong., 2nd sessGoogle Scholar
  44. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1959) A plan for freshwater introduction from the Mississippi River into sub-delta marshes below New Orleans. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, AtlantaGoogle Scholar
  45. Viosca P Jr (1927) Flood control in the Mississippi Valley in its relation to Louisiana fisheries. Trans Am Fish Soc 57:49–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Viosca P Jr (1928) Louisiana wet lands and the value of their wild life and fishery resources. Ecology 9(2):216–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Woodridge AD (1850) Report on the internal improvements of Louisiana for 1849. Documents of the first session of the third legislature of the State of Louisiana. (Baton Rouge: 1850)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and AnthropologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

Personalised recommendations