Highwater’s Rising Report from Driftwood Johnnie

Even Clarksdale City Attorney Curtis D. Boschert had to paddle to work! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Even Clarksdale City Attorney Curtis D. Boschert had to paddle to work! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey


Y’all, its happening, this is exactly what the US Army Corps of Engineers has created the greatest levee system in the world to protect us from — they call it “Project Flood” — next week we will see the highest waters in the Lower Mississippi Valley since the record-breaking high water of 1937.

As it now stands the flood of 2011 will only be one half foot lower than the 1937 record, which is a sobering statement. 10,000 workers have been sent home on indefinite leave from the Tunica Casinos.  No one really knows what will happen although we do trust that the levees have been maintained and are stronger than they were 70 years ago.  See below for a comparison of the record high water levels throughout the last century of record keeping.

Last weekend I ran my last guided overnight trip on the river for this flood, with a family of three, the little piece of sand we found was the only high ground I know about in 60 miles of river. (besides the levee of course) This week it will also be completely under water.

Monday night they exploded the Missouri Bootheel levee to relieve pressure on Cairo Illinois and Hickman, Kentucky, river water now flowing down the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway which hasn’t been opened since 1937.  This won’t make any difference to us down here because all that water will return to the main river near New Madrid Missouri.

We saw premonitions of this highwater when the Black River levee broke at Poplar Bluff, and then there were reports of the Coldwater levee breaking at Crenshaw & Sledge at the end of April.  Will these smaller breaks will save us from larger ones?  They  are preparing to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to save New Orleans.  The water has come up so fast and now suddenly there is a historic high looming on the horizon.  The flood of 1927 was the result of eight months of sustained high waters, but the flood of 2011 has reared & appeared in the space of a month.  What’s the difference?  With the loss of wetlands and floodplains there is less space for the water to flow in the greater Mississippi Valley.

Flood of 2011 — River Stages & Comparisons
The Mississippi River is forecast to reach 48 feet on the Memphis gauge by May 10, 2011. That would be higher than the crest during the Great Flood of 1927 which reached 45.8 feet at Memphis.  Only the 1937 Flood would be higher — 48.7 feet. Future rainfall might elevate that crest.
Record Highs in Memphis:
48.7 feet on Feb. 10, 1937
45.8 feet on April 23, 1927
40.76 feet on March 14, 1997
40.5 feet on May 5, 1973, and Feb. 22, 1950
Bird’s Point/New Madrid Floodway:

Monday May 2nd: Army Corps of Engineers <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/a/army_corps_of_engineers/index.html?inline=nyt-org>  set off explosives at 10 p.m. along the first of several sections of the earthen barrier, sending 550,000 cubic feet of water a second across the 130,000 acres of farmland known as the spillway.

Levee Breaks on tributary Rivers:

April 25 — Black River levee busts at Poplar Bluff

April 27 — Coldwater River levee broke this afternoon at Sledge and at Crenshaw…..evacuating both towns.

What about The Sunflower?

The Sunflower last week rose to just above 20 feet on the 2nd Street gage in downtown Clarksdale.  This is only 1 ½ feet lower than the historic high for the Sunflower (21.5 in 1983).

Yazoo Mississippi Levee Board laying sandbags at Quapaw. Photo by John Ruskey

Yazoo Mississippi Levee Board laying sandbags at Quapaw next to the Sunflower River in downtown Clarksdale. Photo by John Ruskey

Assorted News Stories:

Daily Journal:
Tunica’s 9 casinos shut down as the Mississippi River rises

Times Picayune NOLA.com <http://NOLA.com> :
Bonnet Carre Spillway likely to open as levee inspections intensify along Mississippi River

Wall Street Journal:
Battling Nature on the River

The birds are enjoying the insects fleeing for high ground!  Here a Cardinal hunts on some logs floating away from Quapaw Canoe Company on the Sunflower River in Clarksdale. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

The birds are enjoying the insects fleeing for high ground! Here a Cardinal hunts on some logs floating away from Quapaw Canoe Company on the Sunflower River in Clarksdale. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Heartland News:

First portion of levee breached at Birds Point


New York Times:
Plan to Breach Levee in Missouri Advances

Bob Gosford’s Crikey’s Blog:
You call that a flood? THIS is a flood – the Mississippi River in May…

San Jose Mercury News:
The Deep South braces for rising Mississippi River


Journey on Earth

Meanwhile, what’s happening with the Deepwater Horizon Cleanup along the Gulf of Mexico?  Go watch this excellent documentary by an emerging National Geographic Film-maker Roshini Thinakaran for the inside scoop about America’s most effective environmental action group:



John Ruskey signature of Quapaw Canoe Company

John Ruskey
Quapaw Canoe Company
291 Sunflower Avenue
Clarksdale, MS  38614
cell: 662-902-7841
office: 662-627-4070
[email protected]


The Delta Bohemian thanks Driftwood Johnnie, aka John Ruskey, for his regular contributions. Please support John and his Quapaw Canoe Company. Take a trip with John; you’ll be glad you did.


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  1. Do y’all have any reports from down at 6-mile lake?

    • John Ruskey says:

      Ken, where is 6-mile Lake? If its on the “other” side of the levee, its most certainly been turned into a brown-water channel…

  2. Babydoll says:

    Isn’t the Ms. incredible!

    • Yes!! Incredible indeed. To think of the volume of water that is currently moving through the channel is really more than I can fathom or imagine or understand, really. John, can you illustrate this amount in simple terms?

      Great post, Driftwood Johnnie, and so sorry the links were not properly set up when first posted. My bad!

  3. John Ruskey says:

    Madge, I really cannot fathom it either, its a moving ocean, a flowing world, it feels as wide as the earth and as deep as it gets. They say we’re now at 2.5 million cfs, which means two and a half million cubic feet per second passing downstream, which is an unimaginably huge flow. You know how big a cubic foot of water is? Its almost seven and a half gallons. It weighs about 62 pounds. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that it’s like 22 Olympic size swim pools flowing past every second, which still doesn’t really convey the feeling.

    On the other hand they say this is the average flow for the Congo — and also the Amazon runs 20 times the size of the Mississippi…

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