The Mississippi River Wants To Move


I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana How do I know that? Because it is written in enormous letters on this levee just here. And this levee is on the Mississippi River, the most important river in America. Not just because of the amount of water that it moves, but because of the amount of cargo. Look at all these barges just here that are waiting to have whatever they are carrying moved to the container ports and to the factories that line this river for miles and miles and miles and miles. But here is a problem, and something you might not know. The Mississippi river doesn’t want to be here anymore. You see about a century ago, in the age of steamboats there was a bend in the river about 80 miles away from here called Turnbull’s Bend And that took you twenty miles out of your way and of course, we’re humans, we don’t stand for that So a canal was built to cut that bend out of the way Now that caused a problem hydraulagic– hydra– hydral– hyda– that’s a difficult word to say Hydraulogic hydrologic hydra… Water modelling wasn’t really a science back then It was more a case of just try it and see what works So that new canal combined with the removal of a log jam on the Atchafalaya River meant that the Mississippi wanted to move. It had found a much faster, steeper, and quicker route to the sea So gravity took it that way Suddenly, the Mississippi didn’t want to go this way It wanted to go down the course of the Atchafalaya River a completely different route to the ocean and that is a big problem because here we have all these factories all these container docks built, and relying on this river The Mississippi moving would be a multi billion dollar, possibly even a trillion dollar disaster for America And so, 80 miles upstream from here where once there was Turnbulls Bend is now the Old River Control Structure Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, who are the frankly amazing group who handle enormous public works and dams in America The Old River Control Structure means that the Atchafalaya River is dammed is stopped and 70% of the flow coming into it still moves down the Mississippi It is, a battleground, if you like, between humans trying to keep our world working and nature, which very much wants to go its own way so there you go something you might not know the Mississippi River really doesn’t want to be here anymore

100 thoughts on “The Mississippi River Wants To Move

  1. Why did you film this 80 miles away from where the problem is?

  2. Lol you can see all the traffic on the bridge it's like that every day

  3. You should all read Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Talks about this a lot, and recounts his experiences as a steamboat captain.

  4. Living in Louisiana, we've known this for years. And I knew you would mispronounce the Atchafalaya.

  5. As interesting and incredible that some of what USACE have done is, there is almost always a horrendous knock-on effect that they didn't consider. For example, through all of the engineering on the Mississippi they have inadvertently started to destroy the delta.

    Also, to be fair, the hydrological models haven't improved much. Most of the industry (in North America at least) depends on a very basic model that only really works well on very small sections (reaches) at a time, produced by USACE and is freely available. I recently discovered that the biggest environmental consultancy in the UK used this model, HEC-RAS, to predict changes on the River Wensum…they did the whole length of the river in one big hit and have no idea that their results will be ridiculously poor…further cementing my reasons for not wanting to work for them.

  6. If anyone's interested in a more detailed explanation of what the Old River Control Structure does, why it's where it is, and what would happen if it failed, let me suggest this article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1987/02/23/atchafalaya . If nothing else, it contains the choice phrase, "Southern Louisiana is a very large lump of mountain butter." (Warning: it was written before Katrina, and parts of it read like dark prophesy in hindsight.)

  7. Good video, but a map with each river on it would have been nice for an illustration.

  8. I love your stuff. But inanimate objects can't "want" or "not want" to go in any direction. Could be better expressed in this case.

  9. dude you mess up the pronunciation
    its Uh-chaf-uh-lie-uh…
    NOT <at>-cha-fuh-lie-uh

  10. Wait, it took huge letters at a river bank spelling out BATON ROUGE for you to know you were in Baton Rouge? You just stumbled upon it?

  11. Does the river control structure require constant adjustment? What I really want to know is, will the river move shortly after the zombie apocalypse kills the operators?

  12. Sign this pledge and let us set the Mississippi River free! Together we can save it. You can also donate for our charity, Endangered Rivers, because they count on you.

  13. Ayyyyye I've been in the same area of baton rouge maybe even the same spot 😂

  14. I like how the Mississippi River is the Mississippi River, but comes out of Louisiana. (Just saying) 😛

  15. umm, it's nature that's trying to keep the world working, and it's industrial humans who want to go their own way.

  16. The Mississippi River has got nothing on the Columbia River! The Columbia literally slices through an entire mountain range, with a depth of around 4,000 feet from river level to the Cascade's crest.

  17. I want a ten hour loop: Tom Scott tries to say "Hydrologic"

  18. "watermodeling wasn't really a science back then"
    As a dutchman I'd beg to differ

  19. The Control of Nature already taught me this #honorsadvancedearthscience

  20. I live in Baton Rouge. We have a lot of coastal erosion here in Louisiana, and people want to attribute it to climate change. However it is actually because of the river. Normally a river will change course from time to time. Because of this the Mississippi deposits all of its sediment out at sea, where normally it would build up a delta. The sea normally erodes the land here, but the land is replaced over time by the river. Now that the river cannot move all that sediment cannot build the coast back up leading to a lot of coastal erosion.

  21. isn't the canal and the dam the reason for the destruction of wetland areas and why hurricanes, though not really stronger than they used to be, cause more damage in coastal areas like new orleans??

  22. What the US did to the Mississippi River a century ago has caused significant issues with flooding. And this is going to continue until the River is restored to it's natural course. What happened in New Orleans was partly due to this interference. We really messed things up. Clearly out logjams is one thing. But rerouting one of the largest rivers in the world is a completely different matter.

  23. Welcome to America, where we are waging a war on nature so we can keep our money.

  24. You know the city is bad when not even rivers whant go be there anymore.

  25. There's also a program of carpeting the bed of the river with concrete sleepers to maintain the path, and that's been going on for decades.

    If you want a crazy example, there once was a program to make the Trinity river navigable from Dallas to the Gulf. Just the earth works in Dallas to move the river was a bigger earth moving program than the Panama canal, done in the 1920s.

  26. The levees are also the reason why the surrounding land is now below sea level and new land is being created/deposited into the gulf sea.

  27. How did that song about the Mississippi river go?

    "The Mississippi river can't keep us apart because in a few decades i'll be over there"

  28. id really love to see you explain how this old river control structure works

  29. One would wonder did the river really take million years to figure out it wanted to move in the 19th century? It couldn't find a better path before that?

  30. Should've gone to my home city (St. Louis).

  31. I'd want to move if I lived where the Mississippi lives. That part of the country just sucks.

  32. Definitely not a trillion dollars. That's a big number that is difficult to put into perspective. If the dam broke, it could flood the entire state and require our entire military the whole year to clean up and still not cost a trillion dollars.

  33. Hi, lifelong Baton Rouge resident here. I sometimes hang out on that levee with my friends! This is an informative video on an issue that deserves more attention. I do have some criticism, though.

    Sure, the Mississippi River changing course would be a disaster for industry alongside it. You're not wrong about that, but I think your concern is somewhat misplaced. It would also cause catastrophic flooding for the people who live around it and in the Atchafalaya Basin. I think that's more important than the prospect of giant corporations losing a small amount of their wealth.

  34. If you lived there you'd want to move too

    jk I don't know anything about what it's like that just seemed funny at the time

  35. Would have been a lot better if it was shown in a map or through aereal photos, a lot more informative that seeing Tom's face 90% of the video. Hearing names of rivers and places without knowing their relative positions doesn't really teach anything.

  36. and if the army core engineers would have left it alone we wouldn't have levis and dikes 50 'ft

  37. Sweet video. Nice to see my home, everything you said is right. The structure your referring too is a bit up river but yes it helps controls the flow of the river by diverting pressure from the river during high water. The levee system built is what controls the directions. We built a road we want the river to go, due to navigations and products coming down the river. That structure relieves the rivers so it doesn’t go and flood New Orleans, it’s created a flood basin so when opened the water has a place to go. Right down the atachafalya, in fact a bunch of years back they actually built a canal called the wax lake spillway that helps relieve pressure from the atachafalya. We have really created something else. I’ve worked on this river and inland canals to Houston for years and now a captain, and that river is a ride. Come high water you learn to just survive and take thins easy. What people don’t realize is this river is the life of America. We push million on millions on millions of tons of products up and down this river and is attaching rivers and canals to keep America moving. Without it life would probably stop for a lot of America.

  38. Anyone can build a bridge, but only an engineer can builds a bridge that BARELY stands. The U.S. army corps of engineers are the best at barely making things work.

  39. If anybody is curious, here is the Baton Rogue sign that Tom stood in front of: 30°26'59.0"N 91°11'27.0"W

  40. Did you go see the USS Drum? It was literally right behind you.

  41. This is a neat fact but the video would benefit from some charts and maps. This is a video not a podcast.

  42. It's just amazing how stubborn humans are. This river curves? I will play god and make Mother Nature tremble in fear over our mechanical marvel … okay, we messed up, but we'll fix it. You win this one, Mother Mature!

  43. Tom. Do a story on how the Corp of engineers flooded all of southwestern Iowa and Missouri just to protect Louisiana from flooding.

  44. I use to work on the Mississippi river pushing grain barges to the various grain elevators and I agree with the comments below that your explanation of the old river control structure is too confusing without maps or a good diagram. Check out the wax lake spillway. It's another interesting south Mississippi river to the gulf connected story.

  45. after I posted the below comment I remembered that you have done a video on the new land being created where the wax lake spillway dumps into the gulf. that was a nice video but check out the upper part and the crossing of that water way with the intersection of the Intelcoastal canal. A wicked crossing when the ''wax'' is running high and fast!!!

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