1717 First levee built by Europeans along the Mississippi River
Sieur Leblond de la Tour, the French engineer who designed New Orleans , constructed the first levee along the Mississippi River . Upon completion, the levee was 3 feet high, 5400 feet long, and 18 feet wide at the top. It doubled as a roadway.
1735 Extension of the levee system
The extension of levee line kept pace with the establishment and growth of settlements. Each planter was required to complete the levee along his own property front. By 1735, the levee line extended along both banks of the river for a distance from 30 miles above New Orleans to 12 miles below.
1743 French hasten development of levee system
A French ordinance required all inhabitants of the valley to complete their levees by January 1, 1744 under the penalty of forfeiture of their lands to the French Crown.
1775 First Chief of Engineers Named
Congress organized the Continental Army on June 16, 1775 , and provided for a Chief Engineer and two assistants. Colonel Richard Gridley of Massachusetts , one of the few colonials with experience in the design and construction of batteries and fortifications, became General George Washington's first Chief Engineer. As Chief Engineer, Colonel Gridley's first task was to build fortifications near Boston at Bunker Hill.
1802 Congress created the modern Army Corps of Engineers
With the creation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the nation committed itself to a century-old French tradition of public works in which the army guided construction under the auspices of a rational, centralized state.
1803 Louisiana Purchase
Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated the sale of the Louisiana territory with American negotiators James Monroe and Robert Livingston. The new American government sought to facilitate trade and to develop the region's rich economic potential. With the extension of American control, the floodgates were thrown open to frontiersmen eager to settle the fertile lands of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley , and the population of that region grew dramatically.
1811 The Arrival of the Steamboat
The arrival of the first steamboat, the New Orleans , on the lower Mississippi River heralded a commercial revolution that transformed the Mississippi Valley and ushered in a golden age for the city of New Orleans . A little more than a decade later, 75 steamboats worked the Mississippi River Valley ; by mid century, there were 187.
1812 Levee lines extended
By 1812, when Louisiana was admitted into the Union , the levee line extended from the lowest settlements to Baton Rouge on the left bank, and to Pointe Coupee on the right bank.
1822 Bernard and Totten Report
Army engineers Simon Bernard and Joseph G. Totten present the first official U.S. survey of the Mississippi River . Concerned primarily with the improvement of navigation, the study stressed the value of levees in promoting commerce.
1824 Turning Point in Federal Involvement
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Gibbons v Ogden decision that, under the “commerce clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government had the power to regulate river navigation “so far as that navigation may be in any manner connected with commerce.” Thus empowered, the federal legislature quickly passed the General Survey Act, which set a precedent for appropriations for internal improvements on a national scale, and the first rivers and harbors legislation, which contained an appropriation of $75,000 to improve navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Yet, the authorities under which Congress passed the unprecedented bills did not grant the prerogative to finance flood-control works. Such an endeavor remained a function of the individual states.
1826 Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1826
Although the 1824 act was considered the first rivers and harbors legislation, the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1826 was the first law to combine authorization for both surveys (General Survey Act) and projects (RHA of 1824), thereby establishing a pattern that continues today.
1828 Mississippi River flood
The flood of 1828 is generally believed to be the greatest flood of the nineteenth century.
1831 Shreve's Cutoff
Henry Shreve executed an artificial cutoff at Turnbull Bend on the Mississippi River , with the aims of shortening the Mississippi River , eliminating shoaling at the mouth of the Red River , and increasing the volume of flow into the Atchafalaya River . Shreve's lasting actions played havoc on the dynamics of three rivers and their relationships with one another.
1837 Problems at the Passes
While the use of steam greatly increased the size of oceangoing vessels, these larger ships found it more difficult to navigate the bars that choked the Mississippi River 's several outlets to the sea. In 1837, navigators abandoned the badly shoaled Northwest Pass in favor of the deeper Southwest Pass.
1844 Levee lines reach the mouth of the Arkansas River
Continuous levee lines extended 20 miles below New Orleans to the mouth of the Arkansas River on the right bank and to a point opposite Baton Rouge on the left bank. In addition many isolated levees extended along the lower part of the Yazoo front.
1849-1850 Swamp Acts
Congressional members from Louisiana led a fight to secure the transfer of swamp lands of the states along the Mississippi Valley , culminating in the Swamp Land Grants of 1849 and 1850. Revenue raised from the sale of those lands paid for further levee construction and encouraged the organization of levee districts throughout the lower valley. The acts represented the first step toward the federalization of flood control on the Mississippi River , but the onus of flood protection remained on the shoulders of local governments.
1852 Ellet Report
Charles Ellet, a civil engineer working for the Corps of Engineers, completed a topographical and hydrographical survey of the delta of the Mississippi River . His report to Congress advocated greater federal responsibility for the control of floods in the lower Mississippi River and favored a comprehensive plan for controlling floods--a plan which included, in addition to levees, the construction of headwater reservoirs, the enlargement of existing outlets, and the creation of an artificial outlet.
1852 Latimer Board
Conditions at the Mississippi River 's outlets continued to deteriorate as 40 oceangoing vessels ran aground sandbars at the Southwest Pass , causing delays of up to 8 weeks. In response, the Secretary of War appointed an advisory board under the command of Navy Captain W.K. Latimer to study riddle of the passes. In addition to Latimer, three army engineers comprised the board, the most notable being Captain John Gross Barnard. The board recommends dredging at the passes and, should those efforts fail, advocated the construction of a jetty system. As a last resort, the board recommends the construction of a ship canal from Fort St. Philip to the Gulf.
1858 Highest pre-Civil War stage of levee development reached
Levees extended in an intermittent line of the west bank from Commerce Hills to Pointe-a-la-Hatchie. On the east bank, the levees protected the Yazoo basin and extended from Baton Rouge to Pointe-a-la-Hatchie. The levees were deficient in height and cross section and the 1858 flood caused 32 crevasses. The levee system of 1858 marked the highest stage of lower Mississippi Valley development and set a standard that could not be successfully maintained.
1861 Publication of the Delta Survey
After more than ten years of exhaustive research, A. A. Humphreys and Henry L. Abbot completed the Report Upon the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River , commonly referred to as the Delta Survey . The study represented the most thorough analyses of the Mississippi River ever completed and won the respect of engineers around the world. Both in terms of data gathered and the conclusions rendered, influenced the development of flood control policy well into the twentieth century.
1861-1865 U.S. Civil War
Necessarily preoccupied over the next four years and beyond, the people of the lower Mississippi Valley abandoned their flood control efforts altogether, and, very quickly, the levees began to deteriorate. The general neglect of the levee system throughout the war years resulted in untold damage to the system, as whole sections fell into disrepair and were washed away by the river. A major flood in 1862 hurried this process. The levees sustained further damage as a result of military operations in 1863 and 1864. By the end of the war, the neglected levee system was in shambles.
1867 Construction of the Eads Bridge began
James B. Eads, an internationally recognized civil engineer, began the constructing a bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis .
1870 Pennsylvania v Wheeling Bridge Co
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right of Congress to regulate navigable waterways included the right to make improvements. This ruling merely confirmed what congress and private interests had long taken for granted.
1873 The Fort St. Philip Canal
A decline in river commerce at New Orleans prompted Congress to direct the Chief of Engineers, A.A. Humphreys, to develop plans and estimates for a ship canal. Humphreys directed Major Charles Howell to make the study and Howell concluded that the Fort St. Philip was feasible at a cost of $7.4 million. President Grant appointed a board of engineers to study Howell's report. Six of the seven board members supported Howell's conclusions, but the board president, Colonel John Gross Barnard—a member of the Latimer board and proponent of a jetty system, filed a minority report, jeopardizing the passage of a ship canal bill.
1873 The Eads and Humphreys clash began
In May, Eads condemned the Fort St. Philip ship canal proposal and instead advocated the use of jetties to deepen the passes. Five months later, the secretary of war instructed Humphreys to organize an engineer board to investigate the impacts of the Eads Bridge on steamboat traffic. The board quickly concluded that the bridge lacked adequate clearance for steamboats and recommended that Eads construct a canal bypassing the bridge at his own expense. Eads successfully appealed to President Grant to overturn the board's recommendation. These incidents sparked a long-running public feud between Eads and Humphreys.
1874 The Eads jetty proposal
While Humphreys continued his push for a Fort St. Philip ship canal bill, Eads goes before Congress to lobby for his jetty proposal. Under the terms of his proposal, Eads' jetties would maintain a depth of 28 feet at the Southwest Pass for $10 million. Eads also offered an extraordinary inducement—Congress would pay nothing if his jetty project failed to reach the required depth. In response, President Grant appointed a board of engineers to study the jetty and the ship canal proposals. The board voted 6-1 in favor of Eads jetty proposal, but for the South Pass rather than the Southwest Pass as Eads had desired. On March 3, 1875 Grants signed the Eads jetty bill into law over the strenuous objection of Humphreys.
1874 Flood and Warren Commission Report
A great flood in 1874 exploited the still weakened levees system and wrecked havoc on the lower valley. The resulting suffering and devastation forced the federal government to redirect its attention to the flood problems of the delta. That year, the U.S. Congress approved an act creating a commission of engineers "to investigate and report a permanent plan for the reclamation of the alluvial basin of the Mississippi River subject to inundation." To that end, President Grant appointed General G. K. Warren as commission chairman and appropriated $25,000 for the study. After considerable analysis of the flood problem in the delta, the Warren Commission criticized the efforts and methods of local flood control and emphasized the need for greater federal commitment to the control of the Mississippi River . The report's solid recommendation for greater federal commitment stimulated the growth of favorable public sentiment and encouraged flood control advocates in Congress.
1875 House Standing Committee on Mississippi Levees
Led by Louisiana Congressman Randall Lee Gibson, flood control advocates convinced House Speaker Michael C. Kerr of Indiana to authorize the creation of a House standing committee on Mississippi levees. Beginning with its inception on December 10, 1875 , this committee became the battering-ram for flood control interests in Congress and remained so for more than thirty-five years. The creation of the Mississippi River Commission was among the committee's most significant achievements.
1876-1879 Jetty system completed
By February 1876, the Eads jetty system successfully deepened the South Pass to 13 feet. Soundings in October revealed the South Pass had deepened to 20 feet; additional soundings in December indicated depths at 22 feet. By 1879, Eads jetty system reached a central depth of 30 feet at the South Pass. The success of the South Pass jetties shaped the development of river-management policy for the lower Mississippi River . Eads' success proved that--under the right circumstances--jetties could direct the river to scour out and deepen its own channel. Before long, prominent civil and military engineers became convinced that the Mississippi 's own energies could be directed to the task of deepening the channel and improving navigation along the whole length of the river. Eads himself was the leading proponent of this idea. In a speech made at New Orleans , La. , he proposed to "set the river to work in the bottom of its bed, as we did at the jetties, and, while deepening it for the benefit of commerce lower its haughty crest forever." Flood control advocates in Congress seized upon the idea that a properly-constructed levee system could promote navigational improvements and began looking for ways to implement Eads' ideas.
1879 Creation of Mississippi River Commission
Congress established the Mississippi River Commission (MRC) to develop and oversee the implementation of plans to "improve and give safety and ease to navigation" and to "prevent destructive floods" on the Mississippi River. This seven-member executive body consisted of three representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one representative from the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and three civilians, at least two of whom were required to be engineers. All members of the MRC were to be appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. President Rutherford B. Hayes selects army officers Quincy A. Gillmore, Cyrus B. Comstock and Charles Suter as members of the original MRC, along with Henry Mitchell of the Coast and Geodetic Survey and civilians James Eads, Benjamin Harrod, and Benjamin Harrision. Because Congress established the MRC as an executive body, only a simple majority vote was necessary for the passage of any resolution, resulting in compromise, and sometimes inconsistent, policy.The MRC held its first meeting on August, 19, 1879 and agrees to establish its headquarters in St. Louis .
1880 MRC presented its first report to Congress
The MRC met in January to discuss the basic principles for improving the river. The dialogue over the following 10 days was marked by a display of divergent views. All members agreed on a basic plan of improvement based on contracting the channel and protecting riverbanks from erosion, but disagreed on the value of levees as aids to navigation and the necessity of closing all gaps and outlets. In its preliminary report to Congress the MRC advanced a navigation improvement plan based on channel contraction, bank revetment, and the closure of all outlets, with the exception of the Atchafalaya River, the subject of which had been turned over to the MRC Committee on Outlets and Levees for further study. The MRC report also advocated a policy of restraint in the interest of navigation dependent on closing gaps and restoring broken levees to their former height. While the report described the levee system as a desirable, although unnecessary, component of low-water contraction, the report warned that the repaired levees would not be of sufficient height to prevent destructive floods. Two members of the MRC, Comstock and Harrison, filed a minority report and express their disagreement with the majority opinion on the value of closing outlets and gaps in the levee system as aids to low-water navigation.
1881 Congressional Appropriation Bill for the MRC
Despite the MRC request for $5.3 million to fund its efforts for the first year of the plan advanced in 1880, Congress appropriates only $1 million, forcing the MRC to limit its work to two reaches of the river at Plum Point and Lake Providence . This bill also included a provider that prohibited the MRC from funding levees repairs or construction for the purpose of protecting private property from floodwaters. This provider essentially eliminated flood control from the MRC general plan of improvement for the river.
1882 Mississippi River flood and MRC reorganization
Levees protecting the Mississippi Valley failed at 284 different locations, and many were simply overtopped, reflecting the complete inadequacy of the levee system. In response, Congress passed a bill that authorized limited levee construction for the purpose of improving navigation, but not for flood control. Shortly thereafter, the MRC Committee on Outlets and Levees issued its report recommending a continuation and refinement of the policy of restraint in the interest of navigation. The revised levee plan called for a standard levee grade capable of accommodating a comparable discharge of the 1882 flood with a 3-foot safety margin. The committee noted that, while this 1882 grade “would provide the maximum effect in channel improvement at the minimum cost,” the higher levees “would not be of sufficient height to protect adjacent lands from overflow during great floods.” The committee also issued its recommendations for treatment of the Atchafalaya River . Instead of closing the outlet as Eads wanted, the committee proposed to keep the river open by constructing a low-sill brush dam across Old River to check the enlargement of the outlet. As a result of the 1882 Rivers and Harbors Act, the Corps of Engineers became responsible for implementing the Commission's plans. The Commission divided the Mississippi below Cairo , into four administrative districts: the First MRC District at Cairo , the Second MRC District at Memphis , the Third MRC District at Vicksburg , and the Fourth MRC District at New Orleans.
1883 Eads resigned from the MRC
Frustrated in his attempts to have the Atchafalaya River closed as an outlet for the Mississippi River and bitter toward the MRC policy of restraint in the interest of navigation, an increasingly disinterested Eads resigns from the MRC. Shortly thereafter, Eads admonished the Congress and the MRC for focusing their attention solely on navigation and not the protection of alluvial lands from flooding.
1885 First District headquarters moved from Cairo to Memphis
1886 Congress prohibited the MRC from revetment work
Bank revetment work to improve navigation along the channel was prohibited by Congress in 1886, just as technical advances were finally providing effective bank protection. Irregular and inadequate Congressional appropriations and a tendency by the federal legislature to dictate engineering policy had effectively paralyzed the MRC by the end of the decade.
1888 Rivers and Harbors Act of 1888
The act stipulated that the Corps was authorized to require owners of obstructive bridges to modify the bridge, at their own expense and effort, so as to provide for reasonably free and unobstructed navigation.
1890 Flood focused Congressional attention on river problems
Once again, a major flood proved the inadequacy of the Mississippi River levees. Following the flood, Congress appropriated $3.5 million for the MRC. Additionally, for the first time, this bill did not include the standard provider against levee construction for the purpose of controlling floods. This landmark piece of legislation contributed to the rapid expansion of levee construction under the MRC in the first half of the decade. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1890 was the first general legislation that gave the Corps jurisdiction and authority over the protection of navigable waters. Though the Corps issued permits under Section 7 of the 1890 Act, amended in 1892, the law was found to be crude and clumsy.
1896 MRC abandoned contraction and revetment efforts
Faced with the lingering realities of fiscal and legal constraints of the previous decade, the MRC admitted that its attempts to improve the navigability of the river through bank revetment and contraction works were generally unseccessful. Congress, in turn, authorized the construction of dredges "with the view of ultimately obtaining and maintaining a navigable channel from Cairo down, not less than two hundred and fifty feet in width and nine feet in depth at all periods of the year except when navigation is closed by ice." In response the Mississippi River Commission created an independent dredging district at St. Louis . The district's plant and equipment are later transferred to West Memphis.
1897 Mississippi River flood
This destructive flood forced Congress to reassess the value and direction of its flood control program for the lower Mississippi River.
1898 Nelson Report
A Congressionally-sponsored investigation into alternative flood control methods yielded no change in policy. The subsequent Nelson report advocated the continuation of the federal levee policy for the lower Mississippi River . Additionally, a flood that same year caused no breaks in the levees. For the first time since the commencement of a continuous levee line along the lower Mississippi , a flood reaching the height of fifty feet at Cairo was safely discharged to the Gulf of Mexico without a single break in the levees.
1899 Corps of Engineers regulatory mission expands
The act rewrote the 1890 act and served as a compilation of all laws for protection of navigable waters. Section 10 of the 1899 act gave the Corps the authority to regulate activities that might lead to potential obstructions to navigation.
1902 The Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors created
Congress created the board to approve or reject river development projects
1903 Mississippi River flood
The great flood of that year breached the levees. According to the Commission, all crevasses in the line resulted from the "unfinished nature of the levees as regards both grade and section." The push for higher levees continued.
1905 Rivers and Harbors Act
At the recommendation of the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors, the act stipulated that dredging be the primary means of maintaining a navigation channel on the Middle Mississippi River, as was done on the river south of Cairo.
1906 MRC jurisdiction expanded
The 1906 Rivers and Harbors Act expanded the jurisdiction of the MRC by authorizing the construction of levees between the Head of Passes and Cape Girardeau , Mo. , thus extending the Commission's responsibilities for levees above Cairo to the head of the St. Francis Basin.
1907 Inland Waterways Commission created
President Theodore Roosevelt led a burgeoning conservationist movement that set out to establish a barrier of federal regulation and protection for the nation's land and water resources. The IWC was charged with developing a national policy for river regulation and with making recommendations for the improvement of the national system of waterways. Gifford Pinchot and Nevada Senator Francis G. Newlands were among the most prominent members of this commission, and both opposed the MRC levees policy, favoring instead a more varied approach to flood control which would include reservoirs and outlets. Their report, released February 3, 1908, advocated the creation of a permanent commission that would be tasked with coordinating the various federal agencies responsible for regulating the nation's water resources-including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Soils, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Corporations, and the Reclamation Service. This coordinating board would consider, among other things, all matters of irrigation, swamp and overflow land reclamation, and flood control. The MRC opposed the creation of this competing agency and, together with its allies in Congress, delayed the creation of a permanent IWC for a full decade.
1907 6-foot channel authorized on the upper Mississippi
The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1907 authorized a 6-foot channel on the Upper Mississippi River . The method used in attempting to achieve a six-foot depth was open river regulation.
1908 Corps of Engineers established the Western Division
The Western Division was established with headquarters in St. Louis , and district offices at St. Paul , Kansas City, St. Louis , Memphis , and Vicksburg . The Western Division had jurisdiction over specific work on the Mississippi River from its headwaters to Baton Rouge.
1909 Attorney General restricts permit authorizations
The U.S. Attorney General issued an opinion ruling that the Corps could not look beyond navigation to deny a permit. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1909 required consideration of hydroelectric power development in all subsequent river improvement projects.
1910 Portions of the 1905 Rivers and Harbors Act repealed
The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1910 adopted a return to permanent improvement structures over dredging as the primary means of establishing a navigation channel.
1912-1913 Foods threatened the reclamation of the valley
In those years, the Mississippi Valley experienced successive record-breaking floods which precipitated a crisis in the reclamation program. The tremendous expense incurred as a result of the regular inundation of the Valley, combined with the cost of building, maintaining, and repairing the levee system, was becoming prohibitive. Out of self-preservation, landowners in the valley launched a massive propaganda campaign directed at obtaining greater federal commitment.
1913 Townsend Report and the expansion of MRC jurisdiction
Following the 1913 flood, President Woodrow Wilson directed the MRC to submit a report on flood control. This report, authored by the MRC's president, Colonel Curtis McDonald Townsend, considered six methods of flood control-reforestation, reservoirs, cut-offs, outlets, floodways, and levees. As with all previous reports, the Commission condemned the various alternatives to levees and advocated a continuation of policy. The Rivers and Harbor Act of 1913 authorized the MRC to complete a survey and examination of the upper Mississippi River between Cairo and Rock Island , with a view toward building levees for navigational purposes.
1914 MRC considered implementation of spillways
New Orleans interests, alarmed that the 1912 flood reached a record stage of 21 feet on the Carrollton gage and convinced that levee construction and gap closing upstream were to blame, convinced the MRC to study the feasibility of constructing emergency spillways as supplements to the levee system. The MRC report, completed by Major Clarke S. Smith, the MRC Secretary, examined six possible locations, but citing fears of interrupting the continuity of the existing levee line and the threat of backwater flooding, surmised that a suitable location for a spillway could not be found.
1916 MRC levee work on the upper Mississippi
The 1916 Rivers and Harbors Act affirms that congressionally appropriated funds for improving the river between the mouth of the Ohio River and the Head of Passes could be expended “for levees upon any part of said river between Head of Passes and Rock Island .”
1917 Ransdell-Humphreys Act (First Federal Flood Control Act)
This landmark act committed the federal government, for the first time, to flood control for the Mississippi Valley . It also extended the Commission's jurisdiction to include the water-courses connected with the Mississippi River to the extent necessary to exclude flood waters from the upper limits of any delta basins. A year later, the MRC created the Northern MRC District to administer levee operations from the northern boundary of the First District to Rock Island.
1918 The Federal Barge Line
When the railroad industry proved in adequate to meet increased transportation demands during the World War I, river traffic was revived as means to supplement rail. Through the Federal Control Act, Congress created a federal barge line between St. Louis and New Orleans , while spending nearly $8 million to restore the Mississippi River as a great freight-carrying waterway. From 1917 to 1920, the value of river commerce increased from $15 million to $31 million.
1921 Closure of Cypress Creek completed
In 1919, the MRC consented to the Southeast Arkansas Levee District request to close the Cypress Creek Gap. The final closure of the Cypress Creek Gap in 1921 denied the Mississippi River its final natural overflow outlet, with the exception of the Atchafalaya , the fate of which remained unsettled.
1922 Record-breaking Mississippi River flood below White River
The 1922 flood quickly surpassed all previous record stages below the mouth of the White River despite having a discharge considerably less than the floods of 1912 and 1916. Downstream interests attribute the increase in flood stages to the closure of Cypress Creek and resume their demands for an emergency spillway to reduce flood heights at New Orleans , but the MRC continued its defense of the levee system. The flood gives impetus to a movement to establish a national hydraulic laboratory to identify workable solutions to flood problems, rather than the existing practice of hands-on observations. Both the MRC and the Corps of Engineers are unreceptive to the laboratory idea and help to defeat a bill for the establishment for such a laboratory in 1922 and 1924.
1923 Second Flood Control Act
This act provided $60 million for levee construction over a ten-year period for the purpose of completing the levee system along the lower Mississippi River.
1925 The Pointe-a-la-Hatchie Spillway
The MRC consented to the Orleans Levee District request to construct an emergency spillway at Pointe-a-la-Hatchie. The spillway is completed the following year. Also in 1925, a rivers and harbors bill directed the Corps and the Federal Power Commission to jointly survey and submit reports on all navigable streams indicating what multi-purpose water resource development possibilities existed for navigation, hydropower, flood control, and irrigation. The 1925 act served as a landmark in the evolution of the Corps' civil works functions.
1926 MRC declared the levee system complete
The MRC concluded in its annual report that the levee system "is now in condition to prevent the destructive effects of floods." At the same time, Congress passed legislation tasking the Corps of Engineers to complete a study to determine the feasibility of controlling Mississippi River floods below Old River by means of spillways and levees. The Corps of Engineers established a spillway board to conduct the survey. Also of significance in 1926, the Secretary of War submitted House Document No. 308 to Congress, presenting an estimated cost of surveys and reports on nearly 200 rivers.
1927 Mississippi Valley deluged
The "Great Mississippi Flood of 1927" so devastated the valley that Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, called it "the greatest peace-time calamity in the history of the country." The flood prompted an overhaul of flood control plans for the lower Mississippi River . Both the MRC and the Corps of Engineers submit comprehensive plans that included levees, floodways, and bank protection. While the plans were nearly identical in many respects, lower valley residents found the MRC plan more acceptable, but Major General Edgar Jadwin, the Chief of Engineers suppressed the MRC report, choosing instead to advance the Corps of Engineers plan bearing his name. Also, the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1927 authorized the surveys called for in the 1925 RHA. The resulting “308 Reports” embodied the first systematic efforts at comprehensive basin development planning; and multipurpose planning became a reality.
1928 Flood Control Act
After much debate, Congress approved "An act for the control of floods on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and for other purposes." Through this historic 1928 act, Congress instructed the MRC to implement the engineering plan advanced by Jadwin for controlling floods on the lower Mississippi River . The plan adopted by Congress provided for enlarging and strengthening the levees from Cape Girardeau , to the Gulf of Mexico , with the objective of safely discharging up to 1,500,000 cubic feet/second of water within the main channel. In addition, the levee system was to be supplemented by several floodways. The first floodway was designed to protect the territory between the Arkansas and Red Rivers . Referred to as the Boeuf floodway, this diversion would channel up to 1,500,000 cubic feet/second of flood water away from the Mississippi River near Arkansas City , into the Tensas River Basin . The second floodway, known as the Atchafalaya floodway would be utilized to carry up to 1,500,000 cubic feet/second of water from the Red and Mississippi Rivers through the Atchafalaya Basin to the Gulf of Mexico . The plan also called for the construction of a spillway above New Orleans . This spillway, the Bonnet Carré, would empty up to 250,000 cubic feet/second of floodwater into Lake Pontchartrain to the north. Lastly, the plan called for the construction of the New Madrid Floodway. This floodway would divert excess waters from the river near Cairo through a levee-flanked floodway. All floodways, with the exception of Bonnet Carré, were to be governed by fuseplug levees.
1928 Mississippi River Commission districts reorganized
The MRC abolished the Northern District and transferred all work to the Corps of Engineers' Rock Island and St. Louis Districts. The MRC also merged the First, Second, Third, and Fourth with the existing Corps districts at Memphis , Vicksburg , and New Orleans.
1929 Reorganization and Relocation
The Corps of Engineers abolished the Western Division and established the Lower Mississippi Valley Division (LMVD), with headquarters in Vicksburg , and the Upper Mississippi Valley Division (UMVD), with headquarters in St. Louis . The Memphis , Vicksburg , and New Orleans districts comprised LMVD; while the St. Louis , Rock Island , and St. Paul districts comprised UMVD. As a part of the reorganization, the MRC president would also serve as the Division Engineer for LMVD, prompting the MRC to relocate its headquarters from St. Louis to Vicksburg . The Corps also established a hydraulics laboratory, designated the Waterways Experiment Station (WES), at Vicksburg . Because WES was established to assist with the implementation of the newly authorized flood control project for the lower Mississippi , the laboratory is placed under the administrative supervision of the MRC president until 1947.
1930 Locks and Dams authorized for the upper Mississippi
The attempts to secure a six-foot channel by means of open river regulation, as authorized in the RHA of 1907, proved to be ill suited to the common low water conditions on the upper Mississippi River. As a result, Congress passed The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930, authorizing the 9-Foot Channel Project on the upper Mississippi River . The Board of Engineers final survey report, issued in 1931, called for the construction of 24 new locks and dams and the incorporation of three existing structures into the project. Only 23 new structures were actually constructed as Lock and Dam No. 23 was later eliminated from the plan.
1931 The Jadwin Plan reconsidered
Opposition to the engineering and economic features of the Jadwin Plan led to a congressionally mandated restudy of the Jadwin Plan, To the dismay of critics of the plan, the 1,500-page restudy reaffirms the Jadwin Plan.
1932 MRC initiated cut-off policy
Studies carried out at the newly created Waterways Experiment Station convinced the MRC to initiate a series of cutoffs in the middle reaches of the Mississippi River. Within nine years, sixteen such cutoffs had shortened the distance from Memphis to Vicksburg by 170 miles and reduced flood heights along the main channel considerably. The successful development of these cutoffs marked a new phase in the evolution of flood-control engineering. Under continued pressure from critics of the Jadwin Plan, Congress passed a resolution to request an examination and review of the status and condition of the works then in progress as authorized by the 1928 act, with a view to determining if changes or modifications should be made in relation to the project and its final execution.
1933 Greathouse et al v Dern changes Corps regulatory program
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Corps could refuse a permit for a commercial wharf on the Potomac River that would not harm navigation but would be injurious to the construction of the George Washington Memorial Parkway . The ruling effectively ended the Corps' regulatory program as a navigation only policy and introduced public interest factors.
1935 MRC proposed sweeping changes to the Jadwin Plan
In a report to the chief of Engineers, the MRC proposed sweeping changes to the Jadwin Plan. The MRC proposed eliminating the fuseplug governed Boeuf Floodway in favor of a smaller Eudora Floodway regulated by a controlled spillway; the construction of the controlled Morganza Floodway; tributary improvements and reservoirs in the St. Francis and Yazoo basins; and greater compensation for landowners within the floodways. Many lower valley residents welcome the proposed modifications in clear contrast to the 1931 Corps of Engineers restudy.
1936 Overton Act
The Overton Act modified the 1928 Act in accordance with the MRC recommendations of 1935 to authorize payment for the construction of drainage, levees, highways, highway and railway crossings, and other specified expenditures in connection with the authorized floodways, outlets, and reservoirs. The act also authorized the construction of headwater projects in the Yazoo and St. Francis basins and for the partial protection in the White River backwater area.
1937 Ohio-Mississippi River flood
The flood of 1937, the result of long-continued heavy rains in the basin of the Ohio River , produced a flood of unprecedented magnitude. The New Madrid floodway at Cairo was placed in operation, as was the Bonnet Carré spillway near New Orleans , La. The cutoffs initiated in 1932 along the Mississippi below the mouth of the Arkansas River accelerated discharges and lowered flood heights by as much as five feet.
1938 Flood Control Act
In addition to authorizing $375 million in flood control projects for a variety of river basins, this landmark act reduced requirements for local contribution in the construction of reservoirs and facilitated the construction of headwater projects on many of the major tributaries of the Mississippi River, including the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Missouri, the Upper Mississippi, the Arkansas, the White, the Red, the St. Francis, and the Yazoo Rivers. These reservoir systems were instrumental in reducing flood levels on the main river, as well as the various tributaries.
1940 World War II promoted economic recovery
The outbreak of hostilities in Europe and the eventual entry of the United States into World War II promoted the recovery of the national economy as well as a substantial increase in river commerce. Unimpeded navigation became essential for military reasons as well, as the nation shipped petroleum and other war-time products. Additionally, almost 4,000 Army and Navy craft and other vessels for use in the war--destroyer escorts, fleet submarines, landing craft, freighters, tankers, and oceangoing tugs--moved from inland shipyards down the Mississippi to the sea.
1941 Plans for the Eudora Floodway abandoned
In the face of heavy opposition, Congress authorized the 1941 Flood Control Act, which abandoned of the Eudora floodway in favor of higher levees. Additionally, Congress expanded its 1936 authorization to include the Yazoo and Red River backwater areas.
1943 Congress inquired into deepening channel below Cairo
The House Flood Control Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce passed a resolution calling on the Chief of Engineers and the MRC to submit a report on the feasibility of amending the navigation provisions of the 1928 Act, with specific reference to increasing channel depths from nine to twelve feet from Cairo to Baton Rouge. The next year, the MRC concluded that stabilization efforts already underway, together with additional dredging, might be enough to provide a twelve-foot deep channel below Cairo.
1944 Flood Control Act
Based on the MRC report, the 1944 act authorized approximately 150 additional projects throughout the nation at a cost of $750 million; and it authorized a channel depth of twelve feet in the Mississippi River between Cairo and Baton Rouge , as well as a $200 million stabilization program. The act also required all subsequent navigation and flood control projects be subjected to the approval of the affected states. Finally, the 1944 act articulated a new policy for the development of recreation facilities at reservoirs, stipulating that "all such public reservoirs shall be open to public use generally without charge for boating, swimming, bathing, fishing, and other recreational purposes, and ready access to and exit from such water areas... shall be maintained for general public use." This new responsibility represented an important step toward true, multi-purpose development of the nation's water resources. The 1944 act signaled the victory of the multipurpose approach. It empowered the secretary of the interior to sell power produced at Corps and other federal projects. The act also authorized the gigantic multipurpose civil works project for the Missouri Basin commonly called the Pick Sloan Plan. In the ensuing years, the Corps built several huge dams on the main stem of the Missouri River . These dams were all multipurpose. They provided flood control, irrigation, navigation, water supply, hydropower, and recreation. The act also formalized Corps participation in the development of recreation facilities at reservoirs.
1945 Congress authorized Chain of Rocks Canal and Locks 27
The canal was designed to allow river-borne traffic to bypass the treacherous Chain of Rocks Reach, a 17-mile series of rock ledges that increased the velocity of the current and making the stretch extremely dangerous to navigate. Completed in 1953, the new structure and 1,200-foot lock represented the first major addition to the 9-Foot Channel Project. The project served as the final element required to secure a navigable 9-foot channel between St. Paul and New Orleans.
1950 Atchafalaya River study
A major Corps of Engineers study determined that, without interference of some kind, the Atchafalaya would capture the Mississippi River by 1975. To prevent this, the Corps urged Congress to authorized the construction of a controlled connection along the Old River to regulate the volume of water allowed into the Atchafalaya Basin.
1953 Federal Barge Line sold to private investors
River traffic no longer required Federal guarantees.
1954 MRC reported on success
The MRC reported that its flood control efforts had progressed to the point that most of the inhabitants of the Mississippi Valley were now safe from a 1927-caliber flood. Seventy-five percent of the bank revetment had been completed, and only 250 miles of main-line levees remained unfinished. In addition, the UMVD was abolished. St. Louis District transferred to the LMVD.
1960 Corps role in education and environment increased
To discourage further encroachment on the flood plains, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to compile and disseminate information on floods and flood damage, to identify areas subject to overflow, and to present general criteria for guidance in the use of flood plain areas. That same year, a memorandum from the Corps' Chief Counsel advised that the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act could be used as a basis for denying a permit under the 1899 act solely for fish and wildlife reasons. The Corps' regulatory program entered into an environmental focus as a result of the memorandum.
1963 Completion of Old River control structures/regulatory program continued environmental shift
The Corps began operation of Old River control structures recommended in 1950 and authorized by Congress in 1954. The Corps also added consideration of fish and wildlife impacts in making permit decisions to the regulations; however, the decision on whether to issued a permit “must rest primarily upon the effect of the proposed work on navigation.
Dry conditions caused the Mississippi River on the St. Louis gage remain below 0.0 for 100 consecutive days from November 1963 to March 1964. The St. Louis area had experienced an accumulated precipitation deficit of 42 inches from 1952 to 1964. On 26 January 1963 the river dropped to –5.8 feet and on 1 January 1964 it reached –5.6 feet, both perilously close to the all-time low stage set in 1940.
1965 River and Harbor and Flood Control Act
This act authorized 150 Corps projects or project modifications at an estimated cost of $2 billion. A long-range master plan for stabilizing the Mississippi River between Cairo and Baton Rouge was adopted to facilitate the establishment of a twelve-foot channel depth.
1966 Bridge authorities transferred to the Coast Guard
The program transfer occurred in 1967 after being vested in the Corps for 79 years.
1969 National Environmental Policy Act
This act established a new philosophy to guide federal thinking and activities relative to the nation's natural environment. Most importantly, it established preparation of the environmental impact statement as an integral element of the Corps' pre-authorization process on all projects and permit-granting activities. In addition to the environmental impact of a proposed project, the Corps was to take into consideration the sociological, cultural, biological, demographic, and economic effects. In the process of producing such a statement, the Corps was to consult with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as concerned-citizen's groups and individuals to assure the broadest possible input into the impact statement.
1970 Refuse Act Permit Program initiated
Executive Order 11574 initiated the Section 13 (Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899) permit program, known as the Refuse Act Permit Program (RAPP) for controlling all discharges into navigable waters and their tributaries. The Corps administered RAPP, with oversight and decision authority vested in the EPA.
1972 Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
Together with the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, FWPCA created guidelines affecting standards applied by the Corps in its environmental impact statements, as well as reinforcing Corps' perceptions of changing national priorities. The FWPCA amendments enacted Section 404, while Section 402 replaced RAPP.
1972 12-foot channel for upper Mississippi declared not feasible
The Corps of Engineers completed the Upper Mississippi River Comprehensive Basin Study. The Corps looked at the feasibility of establishing a 12-foot navigation channel on the Upper Mississippi , but declared it was not economically feasible.
1973 Mississippi River flood
The flood of 1973 caused damages estimated at $183,756,000. While larger metropolitan areas were protected, many river towns north and south of St. Louis were hit hard by six different flood crests between March 9 and May 25. Despite the fact that the river remained above flood stage for a then record-setting 77 consecutive days, Corps flood control measures prevented more damages than occurred for the first time.
1974 Lawsuits delay replacement of Locks & Dam No. 26
One day before the St. Louis District was to open bids on the first construction contracts for the Lock & Dam No. 26 Replacement, two separate lawsuits were filed by environmental groups and the railroad industry seeking injunctions to stop the construction of the replacement structure. Both suits were filed on the grounds that the authorization for the replacement project and the Corps' EIS were in violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1909 and NEPA. U.S. district Judge Charles Richey issued a preliminary injunction halting construction of the project pending preparation of a new EIS and proper congressional authorization.
1977 The Corps issued the first Nationwide permits
FWPCA was renamed the Clean Water Act. Executive Order 11990 was issued. The order applied to minimizing the destruction, loss, or degradation of wetlands.
1978 Inland Waterways Act passed
Congress passed the Inland Waterways Act (PL 95-502), which authorized the Corps to construct a new dam and one new 1,200-foot lock as part of the Lock & Dam 26 Replacement Project. The Act stipulated that upon completion of a master plan for the entire Upper Mississippi River Basin , authorization for a second lock would be considered. The Act also established the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, a user fee for barge traffic.
1979 Section 404 authorities defined
The United States Attorney General ruled that the EPA, not the Corps, had the authority to determine the limits and exemptions of the Section 404 Program.
1986 Water Resources Development Act passed
Congress passed PL 99-662, the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA 86). This law signified a major and enduring shift in the nation's attitude towards water resources planning. The legislation reflected general agreement that non-Federal interests can, and should, shoulder more of the financial and management burdens, that environmental considerations were intrinsic to water resources planning, and that marginal projects must be weeded out. The act authorized construction of a 600-foot auxiliary lock at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam and specified that half of the funding for the construction of the auxiliary lock be paid out of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. WRDA 86 also established the Upper Mississippi River System Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
During 1988-1989, 44 daily low stage records were established at St. Louis , while 128 daily low stage records were established at Cape Girardeau . Despite the low water conditions, the navigation channel remained open to traffic owing largely to augmented flows from the Missouri River reservoirs, the slackwater system on the Upper Mississippi , channel improvements structures and dredging.
1990 Section 404 and mitigation requirements
The Corps signed an MOA with the EPA on the mitigation requirements for Section 404 permits. The MOA established the sequence of avoiding and minimizing impacts prior to mitigating for wetland losses caused by permit issuance.
1990 Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection Restoration Act passed
Coastal Louisiana loses over 900,000 acres since the 1930s. As late as the 1970s, the loss rate for Louisiana 's coastal wetlands was as high as 25,600 acres per year. The cumulative effect of human activities in the coastal area has been to drastically tilt the natural balance from the net land building deltaic processes to land loss due to altered hydrology, subsidence, and erosion. Approximately 30 percent of the land losses being experienced in coastal Louisiana are due to natural causes. The remaining 70 percent are attributable to man's effect on the environment, both direct and indirect. In 1990, passage of the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection Restoration Act, (PL-101-646, Title 111, CWPPRA), locally referred to as the Breaux Act provided authorization and funding for a multi-agency task force to begin actions to curtail wetland losses.
1992 Upper Mississippi River Navigation Study initiated
The Corps of Engineers initiated a study to address potential economic looses to the nation for significant traffic delays at the aging locks and dams on upper Mississippi and Illinois river systems between 2000 and 2050.
1993 Massive flood on the upper Mississippi River
The Flood of 1993 was a hydro-meteorological event without precedent in modern times on the upper Mississippi River . In terms of precipitation amounts, record river levels, flood duration, area of flooding, and economic losses, it surpassed all previous floods in the United States . On August 1 the Mississippi River set a high water mark on the St. Louis gage at 49.58 feet and reached an all-time high in terms of flow at 1,070,000 cfs. The river remained above flood stage for a new-record 80 consecutive days and for a new-record 148 days during the calendar year. During the flood, the Federal flood control reservoir system stored over 17 million acre-feet of floodwater. None of this water reached St. Louis until after the August crest. These reservoirs are credited with reducing flood levels at St. Louis by about three feet. Despite the length, duration and height of the flood, all the levees/floodwalls built to urban design standards withstood the onslaught.
1994 Environmental Pool Management
The St. Louis District implemented the first ever Environmental Pool Management Plan. The concept of the plan involved pool drawdowns to correct adverse environmental impacts caused by artificially high water levels in the navigation pools, which diminished aquatic grasses and habitat. The pool drawdown successfully increased vegetative growth critical to alleviating the adverse impacts.
1997 Mississippi Valley Division established
The Lower Mississippi Valley Division was abolished with the establishment of the Mississippi Valley Division. The St. Paul , Rock Island , St. Louis , Memphis , Vicksburg , and New Orleans districts comprise the new division.
1998 Louisiana Coastal plan proposed
After extensive studies and construction of a number of coastal restoration projects accomplished under CWPPRA, the State of Louisiana and the Federal agencies charged with restoring and protecting the remainder of Louisiana 's valuable coastal wetlands adopted a new coastal restoration plan. The plan proposed ecosystem restoration strategies that would result in efforts larger in scale than any that have been implemented in the past.
2001 Navigation Study Restructured
Following charges of the Corps of Engineers restructured the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway System Navigation Study to address the ongoing cumulative effects of navigation and ecosystem restoration needs, with the goal of attaining an environmentally sustainable navigation system.
2001 SWAANC Decision restricts Section 404
The U.S. Supreme Court (SWANCC Decision) restricted the Corps regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 to traditionally navigable waters, surface tributaries to such waters, and waters and wetlands adjacent to Section 10 waters and their tributaries.