Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Levees

In The Control of Nature, John McPhee traces the battle between man and nature in the Mississippi River/ Atchafalaya area. He suggests that the development of America as a nation necessitated the development of mechanisms to control nature. He argues that, in the quest of settlement and progress, “Nature…had become an enemy of the state” (McPhee, 7). As he explores the clashes between man and nature, he is struck by the Corps assumed right to conquer natural occurrences: “What struck me…was his evident and inherent conviction that a community can have a right to exist …in the middle of one of the most theatrically inundated floodplains in the world” (McPhee, 83). For McPhee, and myself, this concept is particularly intriguing. For all the work that the Corp engineers have devoted to refining and reinstating control mechanisms over the natural flow of the water, is it all worth it? While there is disagreement as to whether or not lasting control will ever be achieved, the continued efforts to support such power of nature suggests a feeling of entitlement to settlement. But can a “natural” claim to the land truly exist if efforts are continually thwarted by the strength of nature?

In an article in USA Today, reports made by the Corp are highlighted as signaling the “unacceptable” quality of levees all over the country. While McPhee concentrates on the Mississippi River region, this article suggests that the poor quality of levees threatens communities all across America. Tammy Conforti, the head of the Corps' levee safety program, says that these communities should be concerned and aware of the dangers of relying on the levees. However, these communities would not exist if not for the levees. The creation of the levees, and presumed control over nature and the land that accompanies them, provides the foundation for community growth. With around 177 levees deemed as “unacceptable,” the Corps latest inspection places large areas of settlement in a state of risk and fear. What does this mean for how we have settled this country? If we have to use unnatural and evidently unreliable methods to make the area suitable for living, should we settle there at all?

Link to the article with full list of levees considered unacceptable and the communities considered at risk:

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