One man’s poison is another man’s meat

August 27, 2012

Click for source and interactive data map

That goes for natural habitats too.  With less rain falling in the middle of the country during the current drought, there’s less polluted runoff to the Mississippi.  That means that the river’s discharge to the Gulf of Mexico is a lot cleaner than usual.

An analysis of the Gulf from Aug. 15-21 covered more than 1,200 miles of cruise track, from Texas to Louisiana. The team found no hypoxia off the Texas coast while only finding hypoxia near the Mississippi River delta on the Louisiana coast.

Hypoxia is a condition in which the ocean waters have very low levels of dissolved oxygen present, which means that living things can’t survive there.  Fish do breathe, but through their gills.

“We had to really hunt to find any hypoxia at all and Texas had none,” says Steve DiMarco, associate professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University. “The most severe hypoxia levels were found near Terrabonne Bay and Barataria Bay off the coast of southeast Louisiana.

Basically, the dissolved fertilizer from agriculture stimulates high levels of algae growth in the waters.  When they die, they sink and decay, which uses up the oxygen in the water.  Then everything dies.  As long as the amount of chemical nutrients coming into the system is in balance with the dynamics of the waterbody, the oxygen level fluctuates within bounds that local life can tolerate.  Pollution by industry, agriculture, or local sewer systems can upset that balance.

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Fata Morganza!

May 13, 2011

She ain’t no fairy!  Not with this on tap:

Mississippi Flood update: Morganza Spillway opening imminent

From a recent news item:

The Army Corps of Engineers is close to opening the key Morganza floodway to relieve pressure on the levees downstream that protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. The Corps could make the move as early as this weekend, though officials stress that no final decision has been made.

Still, the governor has warned residents in the spillway’s path to assume they’ll have to leave their homes. With that threat looming, some 25,000 people in an area known for small farms, fish camps, crawfish and a drawling French dialect are hurriedly packing and worrying that their homes and way of life might soon be drowned.

At a meeting Thursday, Army Corps of Engineers Col. Ed Fleming warned a crowd at a volunteer fire station that where they were standing was projected to be swamped by up to 15 feet of water from Mississippi River flooding. The crowd let out a collective gasp.

“From the ground?” an incredulous resident shouted.

“From the ground,” replied Fleming, head of the corps’ New Orleans district.

More details on the Old River Control Structure here.   More inundation maps are available here.

Well, it’s sugar for sugar
And salt for salt
If you go down in the flood
It’s gonna be your own fault
Crash on the Levee – Bob Dylan

Other posts on the 2011 Mississippi flood:

Silent Sea, Salton Sea

March 27, 2009

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When I was in school, I picked off the shelf a copy of Oriental Despotism:  A Comparative Study of Total Power by Karl Wittfogel and learned of his thesis, not widely shared today, that this sort of government has its foundation in something he called hydraualic civilization. These are societies that depend for their existence on huge, government directed irrigation works.  My imagination was set on fire by the notion of what I later termed “Hydrologic Radicalism.”

Today, this sort of radical engineering is not in favor, not after the disasters of the Aswan Dam, the killing and disappearing of the Aral Sea, and the use, re-use, and use-again of the Colorado River until the unfortunate Mexicans are left with only a salty, meagre trickle into the Gulf of Baja California where once a life-giving torrent flowed.  Treaty be damned!

My interest in Big Water, most familiar to the general public via Roman Polanski’s film “Chinatown,” led me to the Salton Sea.

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This enormous inland lake lies east of San Diego on the other side of some mountains the make that entire region a desert.  The Salton Sea submerged the Salton Sink, which was the lowest point in North America before that, a place of honor now held by Death Valley.  When I was a boy, the Sea was still a resort destination in the winter, a place for the Rat Pack glitterati to boat and fish and drink when they tired of nearby Palm Springs.  My interest in it was piqued recently when I read about Albert Frey, an architect who designed in the Desert Modern Style, and built the Salton Sea Yacht Club.

salton_sea_yachtThis modernist paradise has seen better days.  You can see a very nice val_kilmer_deborah_kara_unger_salton_sea_001assortment of ghost town photos of the area on flickr, here.  The decay of the area, precipitous since the 1970s, made it a good setting for the neo-noir film, “Salton Sea,” with Val Kilmer in the lead.  Vincent D’Onfronio plays a meth lab monster who lost his nose to drug snorting and earned the nickname, Pooh Bear.  He’s pretty creepy.

 

caljsiol_sio1ca175_113_017So how did this dead sea come to be?  The satellite image at the top tells the story.  The dense patchwork of rectangles at the north and south end of the Sea are irrigated agricultural fields.  The southern area is known as the Imperial Valley, one of the most productive industrial agricultural sites in the world.   Desert soil is often very rich growing material – to make it bloom, just add water.  Some real estate types had been eyeing the locale for decades when a successful canal building venture was finally launched, and settlers were drawn from across the world to settle and farm the valley.   In the course of building this Garden of Eden, there was a slight miscalculation regarding the construction of the hydraulic gates and barriers.

There was unusually high water in one of the tributaries, and the works failed.  Water will seek a low point, and the entire flow of the mighty Colorado River rushed in with a torrential vengeance.  The cascade created some low waterfalls which were washing away the soil “like powdered sugar,” and they began backcutting the stream bed at nearly a 4000 feet each day, i.e. , the falls were moving upstream at that rate.  Crowds turned out to watch this “cosmical plunge of a great river.”  Parallels to the Biblical Flood and the results of man’s hubris were on everyone’s lips.  The Sink was filling up at a rate of  a half-foot a day.  More than four times the volume of soil removed for the Panama Canal was washed away.  Radical, man!  You can read all about it in this paper I wrote for a master’s level class in geography.

When it was filled, everyone thought the Salton Sea would just evaporate away on its own, but it didn’t.  The drainage from the vast irrigated fields surrounding it, and from some springs to the north of it, kept it filled.  Someone had the bright idea in the 40s to turn it into a desert resort after WWII, and it flourished for a while.  Like the Dead Sea in Israel, however, it has no outlet, and stuff just accumulates in it over time.  This includes salt, fertilizer, pesticide, and other chemcials that feed algae and make life for fish unpleasant.  The large population of fish that grew from some initial stocks began to die off, and the Sea became the stinking stagnant mess it is today.  Plans are floated now and then to clean it up, but prospects are dim as it would be a very big and expensive job, with uncertain results.

Stop by sometime when you’re cruising through So. Cal. and you want to see and smell something different!

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