Engineering Earth pp 1451-1463 | Cite as

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Cutoff Plan

  • Damon Manders


From 1879 to 1932, it was the official position of the U.S. government to prevent natural and human-made cutoffs on the Mississippi River. With the appearance of a cutoff on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1929, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognized an opportunity to gather data on this largely undocumented process. The orderly development of this cutoff resulted in the submission of bold plans, which, after considerable scientific investigation and modeling, became the basis for one of the most dramatic shifts in civil engineering policy in the 20th century. From 1932 to 1946, the Corps executed 15 additional cutoffs and other improvements on the Mississippi River, shortening its length by roughly 25% between Memphis, Tennessee, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This reduced flood heights by anywhere from 7 to 13 ft (2.1–3.9 m) on the Arkansas City, AR, and Vicksburg, MS gages. Then, as suddenly as the program began, it ended. Since that time, no additional human-made cutoffs have occurred, although many have suggested plans similar to those recommended more than 75 years ago. Whether or not such a program is politically feasible today, the cutoff program demonstrated the potential of engineering to control nature on the grandest scale by actually changing the course of rivers.


Flood Control Baton Rouge Flood Stage Waterway Experiment Station Pilot Channel 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Army Corps of EngineersSt. LouisUSA

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