draining the swamps
October 5, 2017 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Richard L. Hindle writes for Boom California:
California’s Legacy of Swamplands - "The consecutive Swamp Land Acts (1849, 1850, and 1860) were among the first federal water policies to reach newly minted western and southern states, designed ostensibly to encourage reclamation and settlement of wet and inundated areas. They are known today to have displaced indigenous cultures, retooled ecological systems, incentivized risky prospecting, and left California and large swaths of America with aging flood infrastructure projected to cost billions."

Levees That Might Have Been
The ubiquity and scale of American levee systems makes it difficult to imagine a world without them. Pierre Bélanger’s essay “Landscape as Infrastructure” clearly argues this point: “the histories and complexities of land transformation and infrastructure deployed in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries present important evidence of a large system of biophysical resources, agents, and services that support urban economies in North America.”
Rivers, Coasts, and the Geographical Dimensions of Patent Innovation
Levees and dams form the fluvial geography of the technosphere. Landscape architect Richard Hindle shows how patents have historically catalyzed the establishment of these formations. His essay maps the Mississippi, Sacramento and San Joaquin River Deltas through the patent system, tracing how it helped transform what is and could have been possible along riverine and coastal systems.
posted by the man of twists and turns (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I work on wetland restoration in California. This is of interest to me. Thank you for sharing!
posted by agentofselection at 1:16 PM on October 5, 2017

well if there's anything we learned in 2005, it's that we can totally control nature forever with zero repercussions

*thinks of the old river control structure, tries not to sweat*

zero. repercussions. lisa.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:39 PM on October 5, 2017

"Water flows downhill", said my Berkeley civil engineering prof. That occupied us for mot of the course, though there was one baffling problem set for which the answer was "The best solution is to build nothing."
posted by clew at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is cool, although I do feel that a discussion of levee technology isn't complete without a discussion about labor, and specifically slave labor system that kept costs low. We no longer have that labor system, although the immense inequalities of our country remain, and the crippling effect on our economy remains. The Mississippi Delta has bled out its population. The Arkansas economy envisioned by the old Swamp act is the pits. Pine Bluff is the meanest town i've ever set foot in.

It's also germaine that the Corps of Engineers is such a conservative bureaucracy and militates against vegetation or innovation in flood control. Everything is a wall to them. Everything.

There's a whole Gulf coast of wetlands from Brownsville to Key West bursting full of fish; It's just not where the journalists and universities are, and it's where the oil industry is. This industry is opposed to innovation and development of water resources, and so the United States is opposed to innovation in water resources.

Louisiana was built by the River; the US desire to ship corn all over the world has guaranteed that that river-building engine has been salted. The US desire for cheap oil has guaranteed that the River will flow faster through petrochemical refineries than into the natural delta.

Since most of the state is owned by corporations from out of state, much of the natural landscape escapes private investment. But then, the whole of the Mississippi River Valley, once the site of the largest city on the continent, was mined for timber and now corn. The last bit that is left is the Atchafalaya, and that is under siege by Energy Transfer Partners and oil pipeline companies.

The United States has always valued timber and corn over fisheries; it's the Farm Bill, not the Fish Bill or the Food Bill. The river and wetlands are full of ammonia manufactured in Donaldsonville, and the Gulf blooms in the petrochemical excess.

But Louisiana has busted the river levee and created new land; The river itself has busted its banks since 2011 and started to build new land that grows against sea level rise. If the United States were to fall, we'd have quite a bit of new land to produce, and we'd get a relief from the pollution.
posted by eustatic at 4:42 PM on October 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Very good article, thanks!
posted by salvia at 12:10 AM on October 6, 2017

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