The Mississippi River Basin Model

Hey there!
In 1927, the U.S. suffered a flood that Herbert Hoover described as the “biggest peacetime disaster in U.S. history”. The Mississippi River flooded, displacing more than half a million people. It caused one billion dollars in damage (that was one third of the entire 1927 Federal Budget). It covered 27,000 square miles with thirty feet of water.

(That is all water.) -Public Domain
So, they built more levees. The Flood Control Act was passed in 1928, and the Army Corps of Engineers began building the longest levee system in the world. But, like a game of Mississippi River Whackamole, it would just flood somewhere that didn’t have levees. Something had to be done. Sectional models of the Mississippi River Basin had been built, but in 1941, Eugene Reybold proposed a complete scaled model of the basin, complete with water and levees and all. Work on the project began in January of 1943, but it was wartime. Luckily, a POW camp was nearby at Camp Clinton. So, enlisted (POW) men would work on the model at ninety cents for eight hours’ work. The officers were not required to work on it, but they could volunteer their time. The first prisoners to work on it were two hundred of Rommel’s Afrika Korps men. By december, there were about 1,800 POWs working on the project. The model was nearly complete by the time the repatriation of POWs was finished in 1946.

View from the Observation Tower -By US Army Corps of Engineers
It took another twenty years to fully complete it, due to unsteady funding and the complex modelling required. It got partial use in 1949, but it was not completed until 1966. It occupies two hundred acres and the Rocky Mountains are fifty feet tall.

The Whole Thing Seen from the Air -By US Army Corps of Engineers
It is completely abandoned now and mostly unknown, but it is open to the public near Clinton, Mississippi. Its full name is “The Mississippi River Basin Model Waterways Experiment Station,” and it did its job. In 1952, the Missouri River portion of the model was used during April flooding to predict and avoid a flood that would have cost an estimated $65,000,000 in damage. It was opened in 1964 to the public for self-guided tours and had a forty-foot-tall observation tower from which one could see the whole model. The last time it was used was in 1973 to predict what would have been a catastrophic flood, but it showed that another floodway could be opened to divert water. Its accurate simulations averted several severe floods, but at a high cost.
The model was not used after 1973 (six years after it was completed), but was funded in part until the 1990s when computer modelling was becoming viable, if a little clumsy, and didn’t need an observation tower. Sadly, no one was able to predict the 1993 flood called the “Great Flood of 1993”. Seriously. It surpassed the 1927 flood and is the largest flood recorded in U.S. history.

(Most of that is not where water should be.) -By Uncredited USACOE photographer. – US Army Corps of Engineers photo
That’s it for this week, except to say that in 2.3 million gallons of molasses poured through the streets of Boston in the “Great Molasses Flood” of 1919 with a wall of molasses that was sometimes forty feet tall. So long, until next week.

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